Papal Address at Wednesday General Audience

Reflection on the Lord, King of the Universe

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VATICAN CITY, SEPT. 5, 2001 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II´s address at today´s general audience.

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1. «The Lord, the Most High, is a great King over all the earth!» This initial acclamation is repeated in different tones in Psalm 46 [47], which we have just heard. It is designed as a hymn to the sovereign Lord of the universe and of history: «God is the king over all the earth. … God rules over the nations» (verses 8-9).

Like other similar compositions found in the Psalter (see Psalm 92; 95-98), this hymn to the Lord, king of the world and of humanity, suggests an atmosphere of liturgical celebration. Therefore, we are at the heart of Israel´s spiritual praise, which rises to heaven from the Temple, the place in which the infinite and eternal God reveals himself and meets his people.

2. We shall follow this song of joyful praise in its fundamental moments, like two waves of the sea flowing toward the shore. They differ in the way they regard the relation between Israel and the nations. In the first part of the Psalm, the relation is one of domination: God «subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet» (verse 4); in the second part, instead, the relation is one of association: «The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham» (verse 10). One notes, therefore, considerable progress.

In the first part (see verses 2-6) it says: «All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries» (verse 2). The center of this festive applause is the grandiose figure of the supreme Lord, to whom are attributed three glorious titles: «Most High, great and terrible» (verse 3). They exalt the divine transcendence, the absolute primacy of being, omnipotence. The risen Christ will also exclaim: «All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me» (Matthew 28:18).

3. In the universal lordship of God over all peoples of the earth (see verse 4), the psalmist sees his special presence in Israel, the people of divine election, «the favorite,» the Lord´s most precious and dear heritage (see verse 5). Therefore, Israel feels itself the object of the special love of God, which was manifested with the victory over hostile nations. During the battle, the presence of the Ark of the Covenant amid the troops of Israel assured them of God´s help; after the victory, the ark was taken up again to Mount Zion (see Psalm 67[68]:19) and all proclaimed: «God mounts the throne amid shouts of joys; the Lord, amid trumpet blasts» (Psalm 46[47]:6).

4. The second part of the Psalm (see verses 7-10) opens with another wave of praise festive singing: «Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praises. … Sing hymns of praise» (verses 7-8). Now, hymns are also sung to the Lord, seated on the throne in the fullness of his sovereignty (see verse 9). This royal throne is described as «holy,» because it is unapproachable by limited and sinful man. But the Ark of the Covenant present in the most sacred area of the Temple of Zion is also a heavenly throne. Thus, the distant and transcendent, holy and infinite God, comes close to his creatures, adapting himself to space and time (see 1 Kings 8:27,30).

5. The Psalm ends on a surprising note of universal openness: «The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham» (verse 10). There is a return to Abraham, the patriarch who is at the root not only of Israel but also of other nations. To the chosen people who descend from him, is entrusted the mission to make all peoples and cultures converge toward the Lord, because he is God of all of humanity. From East to West they now gather in Zion to meet this king of peace and love, of unity and brotherhood (see Matthew 8:11). As the prophet Isaiah hoped, in the midst of their hostilities, the peoples will receive the invitation to lay down their arms and to live together under the one divine sovereignty, under a good government of justice and peace (Isaiah 2:2-5). The eyes of all will be fixed on the new Jerusalem, where the Lord «ascends» to reveal himself in the glory of his divinity. It will be «a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue. … They cried out in a loud voice: ´Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb´» (Revelation 7:9,10).

6. The Letter to the Ephesians sees the fulfillment of this prophecy in the mystery of Christ the Redeemer when, addressing Christians who do not come from Judaism, it states: «Remember that at one time you, Gentiles in the flesh … were at one time without Christ, alienated from the community of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. 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 broke down the dividing wall of enmity» (Ephesians 2:11-14).

In Christ, therefore, the sovereignty of God, sung in our Psalm, is realized on earth in the meeting of all peoples. This is how an anonymous eighth-century homily comments on this mystery: «Until the coming of the Messiah, hope of the nations, the Gentiles did not adore God and did not know He existed. And, until the Messiah rescued them, God did not reign over the nations through their obedience and worship. Now, instead, with his Word and his Spirit, God reigns over them, because He has saved them from deceit and has made them friends» (anonymous Palestinian, eighth-century Arab-Christian Homily, Rome 1994, p. 100).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[After his address in Italian, John Paul II gave the following summary for English-speaking pilgrims]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 46[47] praises God as king of the universe and of history. It is divided into two parts. The first speaks of the transcendent and omnipotent God, who exercises supreme power over the nations and gives victory to Israel over its enemies. The second part of the Psalm refers to God´s throne in heaven, visibly represented by the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple. God is holy and unapproachable, yet he has come close to sinful man and made it possible for him to approach him. The Psalm concludes on a note of universal openness: all peoples will join in singing the praises of God, the king of peace, love, unity and brotherhood. This prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who has overcome the division between Israel and the Gentiles, to make them one people (see Ephesians 2:11-14).

I welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from England, Ireland, Malta, Japan, Korea, Uganda and the United States of America. Upon you and your families, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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