Meditation on Psalm 15(16)

John Paul II Reflects on God as Our Only Richness

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 28, 2004 ( Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave today at the general audience, which he dedicated to a reflection on Psalm 15(16).

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1. We have the opportunity to meditate, after having heard it and made it a prayer, on a Psalm of a strong spiritual strain. Despite the difficulties of the text, which can be appreciated in the Hebrew original, especially in the first verses, Psalm 15(16) is a luminous mystical canticle, as the profession of faith at the beginning suggests: “I say to the Lord, you are my Lord, you are my only good” (verse 2). So God is seen as the only good and because of this the man of prayer decides to become part of the community of all those who are faithful to the Lord: “the saints in the land […]” ([see] verse 3). Consequently, the Psalmist categorically rejects the temptation to idolatry with its bloody rituals and blasphemous invocations (see verse 4).

It is a clear and decisive choice, which seems to echo that of Psalm 72, another song of confidence in God, won through a strong and difficult moral option: “Whom else have I in the heavens? None beside you delights me on earth. … for me, to be near God is my good, to make the Lord God my refuge” (Psalm 72:25,28).

2. Our Psalm develops two themes that are expressed through three symbols. First of all the symbol of “heritage,” a term that governs verses 5-6: It speaks, in fact, of “portion, cup, inheritance.” These words were used to describe the gift of the land promised to the people of Israel. We now know that the only tribe that had not received a portion of land was that of the Levites, because the Lord himself was their heritage. The Psalmist says specifically: “Lord, my allotted portion … fair to me indeed is my inheritance” (Psalm 15[16]:5,6). Therefore, he gives the impression of being a priest who proclaims the joy of being totally dedicated to the service of God.

St. Augustine comments: “The Psalmist does not say: O God, give me heritage! What will you give me as heritage? He says instead: everything that you can give me beside yourself is vile. You yourself be my heritage. It is you whom I love … to hope for God from God, to be filled of God by God. He is sufficient; beside him nothing can satisfy you” (Sermon 334,3: PL 38, 1469).

3. The second theme is that of perfect and continuous communion with the Lord. The Psalmist expresses the firm hope of being preserved from death to be able to remain in intimacy with God, which is not possible in death (see Psalm 6:6; 87:6). His expressions, however, do not put any limit to this preservation; on the contrary, they can be understood in the line of a victory over death that ensures eternal intimacy with God.

The man of prayer uses two symbols. First of all, the body is evoked: The exegetes tell us that in the Hebrew original (see Psalm 15[16]:7-10) there is mention of “loins,” symbol of the passions and of the most hidden interiority, of “right,” sign of strength, of “heart,” seat of the conscience, and finally of “liver,” which expresses emotion, of “flesh,” which indicates man’s fragile existence, and finally of “breath of life.”

It is, therefore, the representation of the “whole being” of the person, who is not absorbed and annihilated in the corruption of the sepulcher (see verse 10), but is kept in a full and happy life with God.

4. The second symbol of Psalm 15(16) is that of the “path”: “You will show me the path to life” (verse 11). It is the way that leads to “abounding joy” in the divine “presence,” “to delights … forever” in the “right hand” of the Lord. These words are perfectly adapted to an interpretation that extends the prospect of hope of communion with God, beyond death, in eternal life.

Thus it is easy to intuit at this point how that Psalm was taken up in the New Testament to refer to the resurrection of Christ. In his Pentecost address, St. Peter in fact quotes the second part of the hymn with a luminous paschal and Christological application: “But God raised him up, releasing him from the throes of death, because it was impossible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24).

St. Paul refers to Psalm 15(16) in announcing Christ’s Pasch during his speech in the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia. We also proclaim him in this light: “‘You will not suffer your holy one to see corruption.’ Now David, after he had served the will of God in his lifetime, fell asleep, was gathered to his ancestors, and did see corruption. But the one whom God raised up did not see corruption” (Acts 13:35-37).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, an aide of the Holy Father read the following summary in English:]

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today’s catechesis centers on Psalm 15, in which the psalmist sings of the Lord as his “welcome heritage.” This strong rejection of idolatry is a profound act of trust in the Lord, as our one and only “refuge.”

Psalm 15 develops two principal themes: heritage and communion. It seems that the psalmist was a Levite and thus excluded from inheriting land. He confesses that for him nothing else matters but God and the joy of being totally dedicated to his service. As St. Augustine notes, the psalmist does not ask God for an inheritance, since God himself is his inheritance.

The second theme, communion with the Lord, speaks of the firm hope of remaining always close to God. Man’s final destiny is eternal life, and the images of a “body” which “rests in safety” and a “path” which leads to the “fullness of joy” clearly identify that destiny which is made perfect in the resurrection of Christ.

May we too discover the joy of the risen Savior, as we proclaim each day that Jesus Christ is indeed our one and only “welcome heritage.”

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

I extend a special welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including the many students, as well as other groups from Canada, Ireland and the United States of America. Upon all of you I invoke the peace and joy of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Happy holidays!

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