For those of us studying Psalm 103 for Sunday, December 16, here are a few questions we might want to think about before or in class:
The Psalmist begins by saying “Bless YHWH, O my soul …” (v1). What mood do we hear in the Psalmist’s words? (e.g., Exuberant? Happy? Grateful, as if having just received good news? Somber, as if encouraging someone who is sad? … ) Do we think of the Psalmist’s soul as eager, reluctant, what? What difference does it make how we hear these emotions? Are there any emotional tones that we can’t imagine for this psalm? Which ones? What might it mean that this psalm can be read in more than one emotional “register”?
In verse 3, the Psalmist reminds the soul that YHWH is the one “who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases.” What iniquity do we think of? What diseases do we think of? Or do we not think of anything specific? Why is that, do we think?
[More personal] What do we see as our iniquity? Our diseases? Does verse 3 sound to us like a statement of fact, that we can attest to? Or like a promise? Or some other way? What difference does our personal situation seem to make to our reading of this text?
Verse 6 reads “YHWH works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.” Verse 19 reads “YHWH has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” How do we understand these verses to be true in relation to what we know of the world we read about in the newspaper, or perhaps experience daily? [For instance, do we understand them as obviously true? Do they mean people who claim to be oppressed must be lying? Are they promises, or guarantees of something that will be revealed in the future? …] How does our understanding inform our feelings and thoughts about God? About our personal situation? About the situation of our world?
When we read verse 11, how high do we think the heavens are above the earth? What image or images do those words bring to mind for us? What image does it give us of God’s steadfast love? What does that mean for us, personally?
When we read verse 12, how far do we think the east is from the west? What image or images do those words bring to mind for us? What image does it give us of how far God has removed our transgressions from us? What does that mean for us, personally?
Is there anyone we would want not to read this psalm? Why is that? What do we learn from that?
Do our souls “bless YHWH”? How?