John Paul II´s Meditation on Psalm 147

Address at General Audience

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 5, 2002 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II´s address at today´s general audience, which he dedicated to reflect on Psalm 147, a hymn of thanksgiving for God´s work and Word.

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1. The Lauda Jerusalem we just proclaimed is particularly dear to Christian liturgy, which has often intoned Psalm 147 to refer to the Word of God, which “runs swiftly” over the face of the earth, but also to the Eucharist, authentic “finest wheat” generously given by God to “satisfy” man´s hunger (see verses 14-15).

Indeed, Origen, when commenting on our Psalm in one of his homilies, translated and diffused in the West by St. Jerome, related the Word of God to the Eucharist: “We read the holy Scriptures. I believe that the Gospel is the Body of Christ; I believe that the holy Scriptures are his teaching. And when he says: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood (John 6:53), although these words can also refer to the (eucharistic) Mystery, still the body and blood of Christ is really the word of Scripture, it is the teaching of God. If, when receiving the (eucharistic) Mystery, we let a crumb fall down, we feel lost. And when we are listening to the Word of God, when our ears perceive the Word of God and the flesh of Christ and his blood, what great danger would we fall into if we are thinking of something else?” (“74 Omelie sul Libro dei Salmi” [74 Homilies on the Book of Psalms], Milan, 1993, pp. 543-544).

Scholars note that this Psalm must be related to the preceding one, so as to constitute a single composition, as is the case, precisely, in the Hebrew original. In fact, it is only one consistent canticle in honor of the creation and redemption brought about by the Lord. It opens with a joyful call to praise: “Praise the Lord … I shall praise the Lord all my life, sing praise to my God while I live” (Psalm 146:1).

2. If we focus our attention on the passage we have just heard, we can distinguish three instances of praise, introduced by an invitation addressed to Jerusalem, the holy city, to glorify and praise its Lord (see Psalm 147:12).

In the first instance (see verses 13-14), God´s historic action appears. It is described through a series of symbols that represent the work of protection and support effected by the Lord for the city of Zion and his children. First of all, reference is made to the “bars” that reinforce and render the gates of Jerusalem inviolable. Perhaps the Psalmist is referring to Nehemiah who fortified the holy city, reconstructed after the bitter experience of the Babylonian exile (see Nehemiah 3:3,6,13-15; 4:1-9; 6:15-16; 12:27-43). Among other things, the gate is a sign that indicates the whole city in its compactness and tranquility. In its interior, represented as a safe womb, the children of Zion, namely the citizens, enjoy peace and serenity, enveloped in the protective mantle of the divine blessing.

The image of the joyful and tranquil city is exalted by the most high and precious gift of peace that renders the borders safe. But precisely because for the Bible peace, “shalom,” is not a negative concept, evoking the absence of war, but a positive fact of well-being and prosperity, the Psalmist speaks of satiety when mentioning the “finest of the wheat,” namely, the excellent grain, with ears full of grain. The Lord, therefore, has reinforced the defenses of Jerusalem (see Psalm 87:2), and has made his blessing descend (see Psalm 128:5; 134:3), extending it to the whole country, he has given peace (see Psalm 122:6-8), he has satisfied his children (see Psalm 132:15).

3. In the second part of the Psalm (see Psalm 147:15-18), God appears above all as Creator. In fact, on two occasions the work of creation is related to the word that gave origin to being: “God said: ´Let there be light!´ and there was light … He sends forth his command to the earth … He sends forth his word” (see Genesis 1:3; Psalm 147:15,18).

At the instruction of the divine Word, the two fundamental seasons burst forth and were stabilized. On the one side, the Lord´s order makes winter descend on the earth, picturesquely represented by snow white as wool, of hoarfrost like ashes, of hail comparable to morsels of bread, and of ice that blocks everything (see verses 16-17). On the other side, another divine order makes the warm wind blow that brings the summer and makes the ice melt: The waters of rains and torrents can thus flow freely, irrigating the earth and making it fruitful.

Therefore, the Word of God is at the root of cold and heat, of the cycle of seasons, and of the flow of life in nature. Humanity is invited to acknowledge and give thanks to the Creator for the fundamental gift of the universe that surrounds it, allows to breathe, nourishes it and sustains it.

4. We now move to the third and last part of our hymn of praise (see verses 19-20). Mention is made again of the Lord of history with whom we began. The divine Word brings an even higher and more precious gift to Israel, that of the Law, of Revelation. A specific gift: “God has not done this for other nations; of such laws they know nothing” (verse 20).

The Bible, therefore, is the treasure of the Chosen People who must approach it with love and adhere to it faithfully. It is what Moses says to the Hebrews in Deuteronomy: “And what great nation is there that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:8).

5. As two glorious actions of God are found in creation and in history, so there are also two revelations: one inscribed in nature itself and open to all; the other given to the Chosen People, who must witness and communicate it to the whole of humanity and which is contained in sacred Scripture. Two different revelations, but God is one and his Word is one. All things were made through the Word, the Prologue to John´s Gospel says, and without him was not anything made that was made. The Word, however, also became “flesh,” namely entered into history, and dwelt among us (see John 1:3,14).

[Translation by ZENIT]

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 147 invites Jerusalem to praise God, who grants prosperity and peace to his Chosen People. Christian piety has seen in the rich imagery of this Psalm a hymn to the Word of God who creates and sustains the universe, and an allusion to the Eucharist, the “bread of finest wheat” which satisfies our deepest spiritual hunger. God´s Word, through whom all things were made, in the fullness of time took flesh and dwelt among us for our salvation. To him be glory forever!

I wish to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today´s Audience, especially those from England, Ireland, Australia, Japan, Canada and the United States. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[Text distributed by Vatican Press Office]

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