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Commentary on Psalm 135(136):10-26

11/17/2005 - 6:00 AM PST

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"God's Wondrous Deeds in the History of Salvation"

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 17, 2005 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave Wednesday at the general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the latter part of Psalm 135(136).

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1. We reflect again on the hymn of praise of Psalm 135(136), which the Liturgy of Vespers proposes in two successive stages, following a specific distinction offered by the composition on the thematic level. In fact, the celebration of the Lord's works is delineated in two ambits, that of space and that of time.

In the first part (cf. verses 1-9), which was the object of our preceding meditation, before us were the divine acts displayed in creation: They gave origin to the marvels of the universe. In that part of the psalm is proclaimed faith in God the Creator, who reveals himself through his cosmic creatures. Now, instead, the psalmist's joyous song, called by the Hebrew tradition "the great Hallel," namely, the highest praise raised to the Lord, leads us to a different horizon, that of history. The first part, therefore, speaks of creation as reflection of the beauty of God; the second speaks of history and of the good God has done to us in the course of time. We know that biblical Revelation proclaims repeatedly that the presence of God the Savior is manifested in a particular way in the history of salvation (cf. Deuteronomy 26:5-9; Genesis 24:1-13).

2. Thus before the psalmist eyes pass the liberating actions of the Lord, which have their heart in the fundamental event of the exodus from Egypt, to which is profoundly connected the difficult journey in the Sinai desert, which ends in the promised land, the divine gift that Israel experiences in all the pages of the Bible.

The famous crossing through the Red Sea, "divided in two parts," rent and tamed as though a conquered monster (cf. Psalm 135:13), gives birth to the liberated people called to a mission and a glorious destiny (cf. verses 14-15; Exodus 15:1-21), which will have its Christian interpretation in the full deliverance from evil with baptismal grace (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-4). Then the itinerary of the desert opens: In it the Lord is shown as a warrior who, continuing the work of deliverance begun in the crossing of the Red Sea, aligns himself in defense of his people by striking their adversaries. Desert and sea represent, then, the passage through evil and oppression to receive the gift of freedom and the promised land (cf. Psalm 135[136]:16-20).

3. At the end, the psalm reveals that country that the Bible exalts in an enthusiastic way as " a good country, a land with streams of water, with springs and fountains ... a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, of olive trees and of honey, a land where you can eat bread without stint and where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones contain iron and in whose hills you can mine copper" (Deuteronomy 8:7-9).

This emphatic celebration, which goes beyond the reality of that land, intends to exalt the divine gift, directing our expectation to the highest gift of eternal life with God. A gift that allows the people to be free, a gift that is born -- as is continuously repeated in the antiphon that dots every verse from the Lord's "hesed," namely, from his "mercy," from his faithfulness to the commitment assumed in the Covenant with Israel, from his love that continues to reveal itself through the "memory" (cf. Psalm 135:23). In the time of the "humiliation," that is, of the successive trials and oppressions, Israel will always discover the saving hand of the God of liberty and love. In the time of hunger and misery the Lord will also appear to offer food to the whole of humanity, confirming his identity as Creator (cf. verse 25).

4. In Psalm 135(136) are interlaced, therefore, two modalities of the only divine Revelation, the cosmic (cf. verses 4-9) and the historical (cf. verses 10-25). The Lord is, of course, transcendent as Creator and arbiter of being; but he is also close to his creatures, entering into space and time. He does not stay far away, in the distant heaven. On the contrary, his presence among us reaches its summit in the incarnation of Christ.

This is what the Christian interpretation of the psalm proclaims clearly, as attested by the Fathers of the Church who see the summit of the history of salvation and the supreme sign of the merciful love of the Father in the gift of the Son, as Savior and Redeemer of humanity (cf. John 3:16).

Thus, St. Cyprian, a third-century martyr, when beginning his treatise on "The Works of Charity and Alms," contemplates with wonder the works that God has accomplished in Christ his Son for his people, breaking out at the end in an impassioned acknowledgment of his mercy: "Dearest brothers, many and great are God's benefits, which the generous and ...

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