Commentary on Psalm 126(127)

«Without the Lord, All Our Efforts Will Ultimately Fail»

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VATICAN CITY, AUG. 31, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to a reflection on Psalm 126(127).

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1. Psalm 126(127), just proclaimed, presents before our eyes a spectacle in movement: a house under construction, the city with its watchmen, family life, night watches, daily work, the little and great secrets of life. However, over all rises a decisive presence: that of the Lord who watches over the works of man, as the incisive beginning of the psalm suggests: «Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build» (verse 1).

A solid society is born, indeed, from the commitment of all its members, but it has need of the blessing and support of that God who, unfortunately, is often excluded and ignored. The Book of Proverbs underlines the primacy of divine action for the well-being of a community and it does so in a radical way, affirming that «the blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it» (Proverbs 10:22).

2. This sapiential psalm, fruit of meditation on the reality of everyday life, is built essentially on a contrast: without the Lord, in vain does one seek to erect a stable house, to build a secure city, to have one’s labor fructify (see Psalm 126[127]:1-2). With the Lord, instead, one has prosperity and fruitfulness, a family rich in children and serene, a city well supplied and defended, free of constant worry and insecurity (see verses 3-5).

The text begins with a reference to the Lord, portrayed as the builder of the house and watchman who watches over the city (see Psalm 120[121]:1-8). Man goes out in the morning to be diligent in his work to support his family and to serve the development of society. It is work that consumes his energies, making his brow sweat (see Genesis 3:19) the whole day (see Psalm 126[127]:2).

3. Well, the psalmist does not hesitate to affirm that all this labor is useless if God is not beside the one who labors. And he affirms, on the contrary, that God even rewards his friends’ sleep. So the psalmist wishes to exalt the primacy of divine grace, which gives consistency and value to human action, even though characterized by limitations and transience. In serene and faithful abandonment of our freedom to the Lord, our works also become solid, capable of lasting fruit. So our «sleep» becomes a blessed, God-given rest, destined to seal an activity that has meaning and consistency.

4. At this point we move to the other scene outlined by our psalm. The Lord gives the gift of children, seen as a blessing and grace, a sign of life that continues and of the history of salvation moving toward new stages (see verse 3). The psalmist exalts, in particular, «the children born in one’s youth»: The father who has had children in his youth not only will see them in all their vigor, but they will also be his support in old age. So he will be able to face the future with security, having become like a warrior, armed with those sharp and victorious «arrows» that are his sons.

The purpose of the image, taken from the culture of the time, is to celebrate security, stability, the strength of a numerous family, as is repeated in the subsequent Psalm 127(128), in which the portrait of a happy family is sketched.

The last image portrays a father surrounded by his children, who is greeted with respect at the gate of the city, seat of public life. Procreation is, therefore, a gift bearing life and well-being for society. We are aware of it in our days in the face of nations that are deprived, by the demographic loss, of freshness, vitality and the future incarnated in children. Over all, however, rises the blessed presence of God, source of life and hope.

5. Psalm 126(127) was often used by spiritual authors precisely to exalt this divine presence, decisive to proceed on the path of goodness and of the Kingdom of God. Thus the monk Isaiah (who died in Gaza in 491), recalling in his «Asceticon» (Logos 4,118) the example of the ancient patriarchs and prophets, teaches: «They placed themselves under the protection of God, imploring his assistance, without placing their trust in some work they accomplished. And God’s protection was for them a fortified city, because they knew that without God’s help they were impotent and their humility made them say with the Psalmist: ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain'» («Recueil Ascétique,» Abbey of Bellefontaine, 1976, pp. 74-75).

[Translation by ZENIT]

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

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Today I would like to reflect with you on Psalm 126, which reminds us that whatever we do or undertake can only bear fruit if it has God’s blessing. Without the Lord, all our efforts will ultimately fail. With the Lord, we will find prosperity and happiness, our labors will bear fruit, and our lives will be secure.

The Psalmist also reminds us that the gift of children is a particular blessing from God, a source of joy and a support, especially in old age. Children are also a blessing for society, giving it a special freshness and future. We can easily think of those societies today that are lacking in energy and hope because of the declining birth-rate. May the Lord’s blessing bring them new life, new hope! And may we all recognize that only with God’s help can our work succeed, for «if the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor.»

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

I offer my heartfelt greetings to all the English-speaking visitors present in today’s audience, including pilgrims from Malawi, Ireland, Malta, Australia and the United States of America. I extend a special welcome to the altar servers who have come from Malta with their families, to assist in St. Peter’s Basilica. May your pilgrimage strengthen your faith and renew your love for the Lord, and may God’s blessing be upon you all!

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