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Commentary on Psalm 66(67)

"Israel Can Ask God to Let All Nations Participate in His Praise"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 21, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of John Paul II's address at today's general audience, which he dedicated to reflect on Psalm 66(67).

* * *

1. "The earth has yielded its harvest," exclaims the Psalm we have just proclaimed, 66(67), one of the texts inserted in the liturgy of vespers. The phrase makes us think of a hymn of thanksgiving addressed to the Creator for the gifts of the earth, sign of divine blessing.

But this natural element is profoundly linked to the historical: the fruits of nature are regarded as an occasion to ask repeatedly that God bless his people (see verses 2,7 and 8), so that all the nations of the earth will turn to Israel, seeking by means of it to reach God the Savior.

The composition offers, therefore, a universal and missionary perspective, in the wake of the divine promise made to Abraham: "And all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by him" (Genesis 12:3; see 18:18; 28:14).

2. The divine blessing requested by Israel is manifested concretely in the fertility of the fields and in fecundity, namely, in the gift of life. This is the reason the Psalm opens with a verse (see Psalm 66[67]:2), which refers to the famous priestly blessing of the Book of Numbers: "The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!. The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!" (Numbers 6:24-26).

The theme of blessing echoes at the end of the Psalm, where the fruits of the earth reappear (see Psalm 66[67]:7-8). The universal theme is seen there which confers to the spirituality of the whole hymn an amazing amplitude of horizons. It is an opening that reflects the sensitivity of an Israel now ready to confront all the peoples of the earth. The composition of the Psalm should perhaps be dated after the experience of the Babylonian exile, when the people began to live in the Diaspora among foreign nations and in new regions.

3. Thanks to the blessing implored by Israel, the whole of humanity will be able to know "the way" and "the salvation" of the Lord (see verse 3), namely, his salvific plan. To all cultures and to all societies is revealed that God judges and governs the peoples and nations of all parts of the world, leading each one toward horizons of justice and peace (see verse 5).

It is the great ideal toward which we tend, it is the most urgent announcement that springs from Psalm 66(67) and from so many prophetic pages (see Isaiah 2:1-5; 60:1-22; Job 4:1-11; Zephaniah 3:9-10; Malachi 1:11).

And this will also be the Christian proclamation which St. Paul will delineate, when recalling that the salvation of all peoples is the heart of the "mystery," namely, of the divine salvific plan: "the Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (Ephesians 3:6).

4. Now Israel can ask God to let all nations participate in his praise; it will be a universal chorus: "May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you!" the Psalm repeats (see Psalm 66[67]:4,6).

The hope of the Psalm precedes the event described in the Letter to the Ephesians when it seems to allude to the wall in the temple of Jerusalem that separated the Jews from the pagans: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broken down the dividing wall of enmity. ... So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God" (Ephesians 2:13-14,19).

There is a message for us here: We must break down the walls of divisions, hostility and hatred so that the family of the children of God will come together in harmony in the one table, to bless and praise the Creator for the gifts that he lavishes on all, without distinctions (see Matthew 5:43-48).

5. Christian tradition has interpreted Psalm 66(67) in a Christological and Mariological vein. For the Fathers of the Church "the earth that has yielded its harvest" is the Virgin Mary who gives birth to Christ the Lord.

Thus, for example, St. Gregory the Great, in his "Commentary on the first Book of Kings" compares this verse to many other passages of Scripture: "Mary is called and rightly so, 'mount rich in fruits,' because from her was born an optimum fruit, namely, a new man. And, when seeing her beauty adorned in the glory of her fecundity, the prophet exclaims: 'A bud will sprout from the trunk of Jesse, a shoot will spring from his roots' (Isaiah 11:11). David, exulting over the fruit of this mount, says to God: 'Let the peoples praise you, God, let all the peoples praise you. The earth has yielded its fruit.' Yes, the earth has yielded its fruit, because he whom the Virgin generated was not conceived by the will of man, but because the Holy Spirit covered her with his shadow. That is the reason the Lord says to David the king and prophet: 'One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne' (Psalm 131:11). So, Isaiah affirms: 'the fruit of the earth will be honor and splendor' (Isaiah 4:2). In fact, He whom the Virgin generated was not only a 'holy man,' but also 'Mighty God' (Isaiah 9:5)" ("Testi Mariani del Primo Millennio" [Marian Texts of the First Millennium], III, Rome, 1990, p. 625).

[At the end of the audience, a papal aide read the following summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"The earth has yielded its fruit" (Psalm 66:7). This phrase from today's Psalm indicates a hymn of thanksgiving, addressed to the Creator, for the gifts of the earth; that sign of divine blessing.

This praise of the Lord resounds throughout the universe, uniting all men and women of every nation: "Let all the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you" (verses 4-6).

For us too, this message is of great significance. Walls of hostility and hatred must be demolished so that the family of the children of God can gather in harmony around one table to bless and praise the Creator for the many gifts with which he enriches our lives (see Matthew 5:43-48).

[The Holy Father then greeted pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups from Finland, the Philippines and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the peace and joy of our Lord, and I wish you a happy stay in Rome.

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