More than 8,000 people crowded into the Paul VI Hall in Vatican City for Pope John Paul II's general audience Nov. 17. The Holy Father's weekly catechesis was devoted to Psalm 67, a short hymn of thanksgiving to God for the gifts he has bestowed upon the earth. The psalm is one of the many psalms and canticles in the Liturgy of the Hours.
“The blessing that Israel seeks from God is manifested concretely in fertile fields and in fruitfulness, in other words, in the gift of life,” the Pope said. “Thanks to Israel's quest for this blessing, all mankind will now be able to know the Lord's ‘rule’ and ‘saving power,’ that is, his plan for salvation. It has now been revealed to all cultures and to all societies that God judges and governs peoples and nations from every part of the world, leading each and every one of them to the prospect of justice and peace.”
The Holy Father pointed out that the psalm alludes to the wall that separated the Jews and the pagans in the temple of Jerusalem, which St. Paul describes in his Letter to the Ephesians. “There is a message for us here,” John Paul II said. “We have to break down walls of division, hostility and hatred so that the family of God's children can gather together in harmony around one table to bless and praise their creator for the gifts he lavishes upon us all, without any distinction.”
Pope John Paul II concluded his reflections by emphasizing the fact that the Fathers of the Church often interpreted Psalm 67 in a way that focused both on Jesus and Mary. “For the Fathers of the Church,” he noted, “‘the earth that has yielded its harvest’ is the Virgin Mary who gave birth to Christ our Lord.”
“The earth has yielded its harvest,” the psalmist exclaims in Psalm 67, one of the texts that is part of the Liturgy of the Hours' evening prayer. This phrase is reminiscent of a hymn of thanksgiving that is offered to the Creator for the gifts of this earth, which are a sign of God's blessing.
But this natural element is intimately intertwined with a historical element: Nature's harvests are considered opportunities to ask God once again to bless his people (see verses 2, 7 and 8) so that all the nations of the earth will turn to Israel and seek in her the means of finding God, their savior.
There is, therefore, a universal and a missionary perspective in this poetic work that flows from the promise God made to Abraham: “And all the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you” (Genesis 12:3; see 18:18; 28:14).
The blessing that Israel seeks from God is manifested concretely in fertile fields and in fruitfulness, in other words, in the gift of life. For this reason, the psalm opens with a verse (see Psalm 67:2) that recalls the famous priestly blessing recorded in the Book of Numbers: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” (Numbers 6:24-26).
This theme of blessing is echoed at the end of the psalm, where the earth's harvest appears once again (see Psalm 67:7-8). Here, we encounter the universal theme that gives an amazingly broader perspective to the spiritual nature of this entire hymn. There is an openness that reflects the sensitivity of an Israel that is now ready to confront all the peoples of the earth. The composition of this psalm can probably be dated to a time after the exile in Babylon, when the people began life as a diaspora among foreign nations and in new regions.
God's Plan of Salvation
Thanks to Israel's quest for this blessing, all mankind will now be able to know the Lord's “rule” and “saving power” (see verse 3), that is, his plan for salvation. It has now been revealed to all cultures and to all societies that God judges and governs peoples and nations from every part of the world, leading each and every one of them to the prospect of justice and peace (see verse 5). This is the great ideal to which we are called and this is the news that involves each and every one of us, which springs forth from Psalm 67 and from many other prophetic words (see Isaiah 2:1-5; 60:1-22; Job 4:1-11; Zephaniah 3:9-10; Malachi 1:11).
This is also what Christianity proclaims and what St. Paul describes, when he reminds us that the salvation of all people is the heart of the “mystery,” that is, God's plan of salvation: “The Gentiles are co-heirs, members of the same body, and co-partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (Ephesians 3:6).
Israel is now able to ask God to let all nations take part in his praise. It will be a universal chorus: the words, “May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you!” are repeated in the psalm (see Psalm 67:4,6).
The hope to which this psalm aspires foreshadows an event described in the Letter to the Ephesians, which probably is a reference to the wall in the temple of Jerusalem that separated the Jews and the pagans: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity … So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:13-14,19).
There is a message for us here: We have to break down walls of division, hostility and hatred, so that the family of God's children can gather together in harmony around one table to bless and praise their Creator for the gifts he lavishes upon us all, without any distinction (see Matthew 5:43-48).
Jesus and Mary
Our Christian tradition has interpreted Psalm 67 in both a Chris-tological and Mariological sense. For the Fathers of the Church, “the earth that has yielded its harvest” is the Virgin Mary who gave birth to Christ our Lord.
Thus, for example, St. Gregory the Great comments on this verse in his Commentary on the First Book of Kings, where this verse intersects with many other passages from Scripture: “Mary is rightly called a ‘mountain rich in fruits’ because she gave birth to a splendid fruit — namely, a new man. Gazing upon her beauty adorned in the glory of her fecundity, the prophet exclaims: ‘But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom’ (Isaiah 11:1). David, exulting at the fruit of this mountain, tells God: ‘May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you! The earth has yielded its harvest.’ Yes, the earth has yielded its harvest because the one to whom the Virgin has given birth was not conceived through the work of man, but rather because the Holy Spirit overshadowed her. It is for this reason that the Lord says to David, his prophet and king: ‘Your own offspring I will set on your throne’ (Psalm 132:11).
‘“It is for this reason that Isaiah affirms: ‘the fruit of the earth will be honor and splendor’ (Isaiah 4:2). Indeed, he whom the Virgin bore was not merely a ‘holy man,’ but also ‘God almighty’ (Isaiah 9:5)” (Testi mariani del primo millennio, III, Rome, 1990, p. 625).