God Is Neither Asleep Nor Indifferent, John Paul II Says

General Audience Address on Psalm 79(80)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 10, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II dedicated his general audience today to a meditation on Psalm 79(80). Here is a translation of the Holy Father´s address that was given in Italian.

* * *

1. The Psalm we just heard has the tone of a lamentation and a supplication of all the people of Israel. The first part makes use of a well-known biblical symbol, the pastoral. The Lord is invoked as «Shepherd of Israel,» he who [is] «guide of the flock of Joseph» (Psalm 79[80]:2). From the height of the Ark of the Covenant, enthroned upon the cherubim, the Lord leads his flock, namely, his people, and protects them from dangers.

This is what he did during the desert crossing. Now, however, he seems absent, almost asleep or indifferent. He offers the flock, which he was to lead and nourish (see Psalm 22[23]), only the bread of tears (see Psalm 79[80]:6). The enemies laugh at this humiliated and offended people; yet God does not seem to be moved, to be «stirred up» ([see] verse 3), nor does he reveal his power, arrayed to defend the victims of violence and oppression.

The repetition of the antiphonal invocation (see verses 4, 8) seeks virtually to shake God from his detached attitude, so that he will return to be the shepherd and defense of his people.

2. In the second part of the prayer, full of tension combined with trust, we find another symbol that is dear to the Bible, that of the vine. It is an image that is easy to understand, because it belongs to the vision of the Promised Land and is the sign of fruitfulness and joy.

As the prophet Isaiah teaches in one of his most poetic pages (see Isaiah 5:1-7), the vine represents Israel. It illustrates two fundamental dimensions: on one hand, because it is planted by God (see Isaiah 5:2; Psalm 79[80]:9-10), the vine represents the gift, the grace, the love of God; on the other, it requires the labor of the farmer, thanks to which it produces grapes that can give wine; hence, it represents the human response, the personal effort and the fruit of good works.

3. Through the imagery of the vine, the Psalm recalls the principal stages of Hebrew history: its roots, the experience of the exodus from Egypt, the entry into the Promised Land. The vine reached its highest level of extension over all the Palestinian region and beyond during Solomon´s reign. In fact, it extended from the northern mountains of Lebanon, with their cedars, to the Mediterranean Sea, and almost to the great river Euphrates (see verses 11-12).

However, the splendor of this flowering was shattered. The Psalm reminds us that a tempest struck God´s vine, that is, Israel underwent a harsh test, a terrible invasion that devastated the Promised Land. As though he was an invader, God himself demolished the wall surrounding the vine, thus leaving it to be plundered by robbers, represented by the wild boar, an animal considered violent and impure according to ancient customs. To the power of the boar are associated all the wild beasts, symbol of an inimical horde that devastates everything (see verses 13-14).

4. Then, an urgent appeal is addressed to God so that, breaking his silence, he will again be arrayed in defense of the victims: «Turn again, Lord of hosts; look down from heaven and see; attend to this vine» (verse 15). God will again be the protector of the vital stump of this vine subjected to such a violent storm, scattering all those who tried to uproot and burn it (see verses 16-17).

At this point, the Psalm opens to hope of a messianic coloring. In fact, in verse 18 it prays thus: «May your help be with the man at your right hand, with the one whom you once made strong.» Our thoughts turn first of all to the Davidic king who, with the Lord´s support, will lead the uprising for freedom. But trust in the future Messiah is implicit, that «son of man» who will be sung by the prophet Daniel (see 7:13-14), and that Jesus will assume as a favorite title to describe his work and his messianic person. In fact, the Fathers of the Church will be unanimous in indicating, in the vine evoked by the Psalm, a prophetic prefiguration of Christ «true vine» (John 15:1) and of the Church.

5. For the Lord´s face to shine again, it is certainly necessary that Israel be converted in fidelity and prayer to God the Savior. It is what the Psalmist expresses, affirming: «Then we will not withdraw from you» (Psalm 79[80]:19).

Psalm 79(80), then, is a song intensely marked by suffering, but by indestructible trust. God is always ready to «return» to his people, but it is also necessary for his people to «return» to him with fidelity. If we are converted from sin, the Lord will be «converted» from his intention to punish: This is the Psalmist´s conviction, which also finds an echo in our hearts, opening them to hope.

[Translation by ZENIT]

* * *

[At the end of the audience, the Pope gave this summary of his address in English.]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 79 is a song of lament, a supplication to the Lord. God is invoked as «Shepherd» and is called on to save his people, his flock. The imagery of a vine is then used: planted by the Lord and cultivated by man, it flourishes and increases, producing much good fruit. But the walls protecting it are broken down and it is overrun by wild beasts, symbols of sin and evil.

God´s holy people, however, do not give up hope. They cry out to the Lord. In fact, it is not God who has abandoned his people, but his people who have turned away from him. All of us, therefore, need to return to the Lord, who stands ever ready to save us from eternal suffering and death with the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ.

I am pleased to extend a special welcome to the officials from the NATO Defense College, as well as to the seminarians from Saint Cuthbert´s College in England. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present, particularly those from England, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Savior.

[text distributed by Vatican Press Office]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation