Commentary on Psalm 121(122)

«The Biblical Religion Is the Leaven of Justice and Solidarity»

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VATICAN CITY, OCT. 12, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today at the general audience, which he dedicated to comment on Psalm 121(122).

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1. The canticle we just heard and enjoyed as a prayer is one of the most beautiful and moving of the «songs of ascent.» It is Psalm 121(122), a lively and participatory celebration in Jerusalem, the Holy City toward which the pilgrims ascend.

In fact, immediately in the opening, two moments come together lived by the faithful one: that of the day in which he accepted the invitation to «go to the house of the Lord» (verse 1), and that of the joyful arrival at the «gates» of Jerusalem (see verse 2); now his feet finally tread on that holy and beloved land. Precisely then, lips part to intone a festive song in honor of Zion, understood in its profound spiritual meaning.

2. «Built as a city, walled round about» (verse 3), symbol of security and stability, Jerusalem is the heart of the unity of the 12 tribes of Israel, which converge toward it as the center of their faith and worship. There, in fact, they ascend «to give thanks to the name of the Lord» (verse 4), in the place that the «law of Israel» (Deuteronomy 12:13-14; 16:16) established as the only legitimate and perfect sanctuary.

There is another important reality in Jerusalem, which is also the sign of God’s presence in Israel: «the thrones of the house of David» (see Psalm 121[122]:5), that is, the Davidic dynasty governs, expression of the divine action in history, which would lead to the Messiah (2 Samuel 7:8-16).

3. The «seats of the house of David» were called at the same time «thrones of judgment» (see Psalm 121[112]:5), because the king was also the supreme judge. Thus Jerusalem, political capital, was also the highest judicial seat, where controversies were resolved in the last resort: In this way, leaving Zion, Jewish pilgrims returned to their villages more righteous and pacified.

The psalm has thus sketched an ideal picture of the Holy City in its religious and social function, showing that the biblical religion is not abstract or private, but is the leaven of justice and solidarity. Communion with God is followed necessarily by communion of brothers among themselves.

4. We now come to the final invocation (see verses 6-9). Its rhythm is marked by the Hebrew word «shalom,» «peace,» traditionally considered as the base of the very name of the Holy City, «Jerushalajim,» interpreted as «city of peace.»

As is known, shalom alludes to the messianic peace, which comprises in itself joy, prosperity, good, abundance. In fact, in the final farewell that the pilgrim addresses to the temple, to the «house of the Lord our God,» «good» is added to peace: «I will seek your good» (verse 9). Thus we have, in an anticipated way, the Franciscan greeting: «Peace and good!» It is the hope of blessing on the faithful who love the Holy City, on their physical reality of walls and palaces in which the life of a people pulsates, on all brothers and friends. In this way, Jerusalem will become a home of harmony and peace.

5. We conclude our meditation on Psalm 121(122) with a reflection suggested by the Fathers of the Church for whom ancient Jerusalem was the sign of another Jerusalem, it too «built as a city which is bound firmly together.» This city — St. Gregory the Great recalls in the «Homilies on Ezekiel» — «has already its great construction in the saints’ customs. In a building, one stone sustains another, because one stone is placed on another, and the one that sustains another is in turn sustained by yet another. So, precisely in this way, in the Holy Church each one sustains and is sustained. The closest sustain one another mutually, and in this way, through them, the building of charity is erected. That is the reason Paul admonishes, saying: ‘Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ’ (Galatians 6:2). Underlining the force of this law, he says: ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Romans 13:10). If I, in fact, do not make an effort to accept you as you are, and you do not make an effort to accept me as I am, the building of charity cannot rise between us, who are also bound by mutual and patient love.» And, to complete the image, it must not be forgotten that «there is a foundation that supports the whole weight of the construction, and it is our Redeemer, who alone tolerates in their totality all our customs. Of him the Apostle says: ‘No other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 3:11). The foundation bears the stones and is not borne by the stones; that is, our Redeemer bears the weight of all our faults, but in him there was not fault to tolerate» (2,1,5: «Opere di Gregorio Magno» [Works of Gregory the Great] III/2, Rome, 1993, pp. 27,29).

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in several languages. In English, he said:]

Psalm 121, the subject of this week’s catechesis, is one of the «songs of ascent» sung by ancient pilgrims to the Holy City of Jerusalem. The Psalmist praises Jerusalem as a city strongly compact, the heart of Israel’s unity in faith and worship, and the throne of judgment of the house of David. A city of holiness, justice and social solidarity, Jerusalem is thus a place of communion and peace among God’s people.

The psalm culminates in a prayer for the peace of Jerusalem and invokes upon the Holy City that messianic peace — shalom — which is God’s gracious gift. The Christian tradition, in echoing this heartfelt prayer, has seen in the earthly Jerusalem an image of the heavenly Jerusalem, the mystery of the holy Church, built of living stones and founded upon the saving love of Christ the Redeemer.

I extend a warm welcome to the members of Derry Diocesan Pilgrimage from Northern Ireland. My greetings also go to the Extended General Councils of the Sisters of the Order of St. Basil the Great and the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and to the participants in the NATO Defense College. Upon all present at today’s audience, including the many pilgrims from England, Ireland, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Canada and the United States, I cordially invoke God’s blessing of joy and peace.

[Original text: English]

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