Meditation on Psalm 71(72):12-19

Christ as Defender of the Poor and Oppressed

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 15, 2004 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II’s address at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to comment on Psalm 71(72):12-19.

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1. The Liturgy of Vespers, which we have been following through a series of its Psalms, proposes Psalm 71(72), a royal-messianic hymn, to us in two parts. After having already meditating on the first part (see verses 1-11), we now have before us the second poetic and spiritual movement of this song dedicated to the glorious figure of the Messiah King (see verses 12-19). However, we must point out immediately that the end of the two last verses (see verses 18-19) is, in reality, a subsequent liturgical addition to the Psalm.

It is, in fact, a brief but intense blessing that was to seal the second of the five books in which Jewish tradition had divided the collection of 150 Psalms: This second book began with Psalm 41(42), that of the thirsty hart, luminous symbol of the spiritual thirst for God. Now it is a song of hope in an era of peace and justice which concludes that sequence of Psalms and the words of the final blessing that are an exaltation of the Lord’s effective presence, whether in the history of humanity, where he “does wonderful deeds” (Psalm 71[72]:18), or in the created universe full of his glory (see verse 19).

2. As already was the case in the first part of the Psalm, the decisive element to recognize the figure of the Messianic King is above all justice and his love of the poor (see verses 12-14). They have him alone as reference point and source of hope, inasmuch as he is the visible representative of their only defender and master, God. The history of the Old Testament teaches that the sovereigns of Israel, in reality, too often belied this commitment of theirs, abusing their power over the weak, the miserable and the poor.

Because of this, the Psalmist now looks to a just, perfect king incarnated by the Messiah, the only sovereign ready to redeem the oppressed “from extortion and violence” (see verse 14). The Hebrew word used is the juridical one of the protector of the last and of victims, applied also to Israel “redeemed” from slavery when it was oppressed by the power of the Pharaoh.

The Lord is the primary “rescuer-redeemer” who acts visibly through the Messiah King, defending “the life and blood” of the poor, his protected ones. Now, “life” and “blood” are the fundamental reality of the person, the representation of the rights and of the dignity of every human being, rights often violated by the powerful and arrogant of this world.

3. In its original version, Psalm 71(72) ends, before the final antiphon already mentioned, with an acclamation in honor of the Messiah-King (see verses 15-17). It is similar to the sound of a trumpet that accompanies a chorus of greetings and good wishes to the sovereign, to his life, to his well-being, to his blessing, to the permanence of his memory through the centuries.

Of course, these are elements that belong to the style of court compositions, with the emphasis proper to them. But now these words acquire their truth in the action of the perfect king, awaited and expected, the Messiah.

According to a characteristic of messianic poems, the whole of nature is involved in a transformation which is first of all social: The wheat of the harvest will be so abundant as to become almost like a sea of ears of wheat waving on the top of the mountains (see verse 16). It is the sign of divine blessing that pours itself out in fullness on a pacified and serene earth. What is more, the whole of humanity, letting fall and canceling every division, will converge toward this sovereign of justice, thus fulfilling the great promise made by the Lord to Abraham: “May the tribes of the earth give blessings with his name” (verse 17; see Genesis 12:3).

4. Christian tradition has intuited in the face of this Messiah King the portrait of Jesus Christ. In his “Commentary on Psalm 71,” St. Augustine, re-reading the song precisely in a Christological vein, explained that the indigent and the poor whom Christ comes to rescue are “the people of believers in him.” What is more, recalling the kings mentioned earlier in the Psalm, he specifies that “in this people are included also the kings who adore him. They have not, in fact, disdained to be indigent and poor, that is, to humbly confess their sins and recognize themselves in need of the glory and grace of God, so that that king, son of the king, would free them from the powerful one,” namely, Satan, the “slanderer,” the “strong” one. “But our Savior humiliated the slanderer, and entered the house of the strong one, snatching his riches from him after chaining him; he freed the indigent one from the powerful one, and the poor one who had no one to save him.” This, in fact, could not have been done by any created power: not that of a just man or that of an angel. There was no one able to save us; that is why he came, in person, and has saved us” (71,14: “Nuova Biblioteca Agostiniana” (New Augustinian Library), XXVI, Rome, 1970, pp. 809,811).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, one of the Pope’s aides read the following summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Psalm 71, sung at the beginning of this audience, invites us to consider more fully the meaning of this liturgical season of Advent. It is a royal Psalm, which portrays a just and devout king who defends the poor and the oppressed (see Psalm 71:12-13).

The Christian Tradition has seen in this image of the Messiah and King a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ, Son of the Virgin Mary, the long-awaited Savior.

Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem is thus the fulfillment of the great promise which the Lord made to Abraham: “in him shall every tribe of the earth be blessed” (verse 17; see Genesis 12:3).

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

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s audience, particularly the two groups from the United States of America. In the joy of this Advent season, I cordially invoke upon you and your families the abundant blessings of Jesus Christ our Lord and King.

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