During his general audience Dec. 1, Pope John Paul II devoted his catechesis to Psalm 72, one of the “royal psalms” found in the Book of Psalms.
According to the Holy Father, Psalm 72 “opens with a powerful cry unto God in song, asking him to grant the king the gift of justice, which is fundamental for ruling righteously, especially in relationship to the poor, who are usually the victims of power.” He pointed out that any act that violates the rights of the poor is not only “politically unfair and morally unjust” but an offense against God, who is the “guardian and defender of the poor and the oppressed.” Just as the Lord rules the world in truth and justice, likewise the king, his visible representative on earth, according to the Bible, must imitate God's actions.
Pope John Paul II pointed out references in the psalm that indicate how God's rule transcends time and space. “On one hand, the continuity of his reign throughout history is exalted with vivid images of a cosmic nature: The sun and the moon mark the rhythm of each passing day and the passing of the seasons is marked by the rhythm of the rain that falls and the flowers that bloom,” he noted. “On the other hand, the psalmist also describes the spatial reality where the king and Messiah's reign of justice and peace is situated,” the Holy Father said. “Its perspective extends across the entire map of the world as it was known at
Evening prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, on whose psalms and canticles we have been commenting over time, divides Psalm 72 into two parts. It is one of the most beloved psalms of both the Jewish and Christian traditions — a royal psalm upon which the Fathers of the Church meditated and that they interpreted in a messianic light.
The Gift of Justice
We just heard the first part of this solemn prayer (see verses 1-11). It opens with a powerful cry unto God in song, asking him to grant the king the gift of justice, which is fundamental for ruling righteously, especially in relationship to the poor, who are usually the victims of power.
The special emphasis that the psalmist places on the moral obligation to rule the people according to justice and the law is noteworthy: “O God, give your judgment to the king; your justice to the son of kings; That he may govern your people with justice … That he may defend the oppressed among the people” (verses 1, 2 and 4).
Just as the Lord rules the world with justice (see Psalm 36:7), likewise the king, who is his visible representative on earth, according to the ancient biblical concept, must imitate God's actions.
Defender of the Poor
If the rights of the poor are violated, an act is carried out that is not only politically unfair and morally unjust. According to the Bible, it is also an act against God, a religious offense, because the Lord is the guardian and defender of the poor and the oppressed and of widows and orphans (see Psalm 68:6), namely, those people who do not have any human protectors.
It is easy to understand how tradition has substituted — as early as the collapse of the monarchy of Judah in the sixth century B.C. — the bright and glorious figure of the Messiah for the often disappointing figure of King David, along the lines of the prophetic hope that Isaiah expressed: “But he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land's afflicted” (Isaiah 11:4). Likewise, Jeremiah proclaims: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; As king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land” (Jeremiah 23:5).
The Lord of History
After this animated and impassioned plea for the gift of justice, the scope of the psalm broadens as it contemplates the reign of the king and Messiah as it unfolds along the coordinates of time and space. On one hand, the continuity of his reign throughout history is exalted (see Psalm 72:5 and 7) with vivid images of a cosmic nature: The sun and the moon mark the rhythm of each passing day and the passing of the seasons is marked by the rhythm of the rain that falls and the flowers that bloom.
Thus, it is a reign that is fruitful and peaceful, but that is always characterized by those values that are crucial: justice and peace (see verse 7). These are the signs of the Messiah's intervention in history as it unfolds. In this perspective, a commentary from the Fathers of the Church, who saw in this king and Messiah the face of Christ, the eternal and universal king, is enlightening.
Thus, St. Cyril of Alexandria, in his Explanatio in Psalmos, observes that the judgment that God gives to the king is the judgment of which St. Paul speaks: “a plan for the fullness of time, to sum up all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10). In fact, “that abundance may flourish in his days” seems to indicate that “in the days of Christ, justice will flow forth for us through faith, and an abundance of peace will flow forth as we turn toward God.” Moreover, we are the “the oppressed” and “the poor” whom this king rescues and saves: If, at first, “he calls the holy apostles ‘the oppressed’ because they were poor in spirit, he has saved us then, insofar as we are ‘the children of the poor,’ justifying and sanctifying us in the faith through the Spirit” (PG, LXIX, 1180).
The Lord of the Universe
On the other hand, the psalm-ist also describes the spatial reality where the king and Messiah's reign of justice and peace is situated (see Psalm 72:8-11). Here we see a universal dimension that extends from the Red Sea or Dead Sea to the Mediterranean, from the Euphrates — the great “river” of the East — to the outermost ends of the earth (see verse 8). Reference is also made to Tarshish and the islands, the remote territories of the Far West according to ancient biblical geography (see verse 10). Its perspective extends across the entire map of the world as it was known at that time, encompassing Arabs, nomads, rulers of remote states and even enemies in a universal embrace that the psalms often exalt (see Psalm 47:10; 87:1-7) as well as the prophets (see Isaiah 2:1-5; Isaiah 60:1-22; Malachi 1:11).
Therefore, an ideal conclusion to this vision might be formulated with words from the prophet Zechariah, words that the Gospels will apply to Christ: “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he… He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; The warrior's bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth” (Zechariah 9:9-10; see Matthew 21:5).