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Guiding All Peoples to God

BY Jim Cosgrove

September 16-22, 2001 Issue | Posted 9/16/01 at 1:00 AM

 

Register Summary

A “surprising” prophecy in the psalms that envisioned all the earth's peoples joined in God's praise, found fulfillment through Jesus Christ, John Paul II told more than 12,000 pilgrims in St. Peter's Square at his weekly general audience Sept. 5.

In his remarks on Psalm 47, the Pope said that Christ's suffering and death broke down the barriers between gentiles and Jews, the people of the covenant.

The psalm, a hymn of praise to God as the king of the universe, concludes, John Paul said, “on a note surprising for its openness to other peoples: 'The princes of the peoples assemble with the people of the God of Abraham.’”

Though the psalm also emphasizes God's domination, it depicts the Jews’ mission as one of “making all peoples and cultures converge toward the Lord, because he is the God of all humanity” whom everyone is called to encounter, the Pope said.

“The Lord, the Most High, the great king over all the earth!” This opening acclamation is repeated with different words throughout Psalm 47, which we have just listened to. It is structured as a hymn to the sovereign Lord of the universe and of history. “God is king over all the earth. ... God rules over the nations” (verses 8-9).

Like similar compositions in the psalter (Psalms 93 and 96-99), this hymn to the Lord, the king of the world and of humanity, implies an atmosphere of liturgical festivity. We are therefore at the spiritual heart of Israel's praise, which rises up to heaven from the Temple, the place where the infinite, eternal God reveals himself and meets his people.

We will follow this song of joyous praise through its basic movements, which are like two waves advancing toward the seashore. They differ in the way they view the relation between Israel and the nations.

In the first part of the psalm, the relation is one of domination: God “made people subject to us, brought nations under our feet” (verse 4). In the second part, the relation is, instead, one of association: “The princes of the peoples assemble with the people of the God of Abraham” (verse 10). Thus, we recognize there has been a notable development.

The First Movement

In the first part (verse 2-6) it says: “All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries” (verse 2). The center of this festive applause is the majestic figure of the supreme Lord, who is given three glorious titles: “Most High, great and terrible” (verse 3). They exalt God's transcendence, absolute primacy of being and omnipotence.

The risen Christ will also exclaim: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

Within God's universal lordship over all the peoples of the earth (verse 4), the psalmist emphasizes God's special presence in Israel, the divinely chosen people, the “beloved,” the Lord's most precious and dearest heritage (verse 5).

Israel, then, knows itself to be the object of a special love of God, which was made manifest in victory over the hostile nations. During the battle, the presence of the Ark of the Covenant near Israel's troops secured God's help for them. After the victory, the ark went back up Mount Zion (Psalm 68:19) and everyone proclaimed, “God mounts the throne amid shouts of joy; the Lord, amid trumpet blasts” (Psalm 47:6).

The Second Movement

The second movement of the psalm (verses 7-10) opens with another wave of praise and festive song: “Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praise. ... Sing hymns of praise” (verses 7-8). The hymn is still addressed to the Lord, who is seated on the throne in the fullness of his kingly power (verse 9). This royal seat is called “holy” because it cannot be approached by limited, sinful man.

But the Ark of the Covenant, present in the most sacred area of the Temple of Zion, is also a heavenly throne. In this way, the God who is distant and transcendent, holy and infinite, comes close to his creatures, adapting himself to space and time (1 Kings 8: 27, 30).

The psalm ends on a note surprising for its openness to other peoples: “The princes of the peoples assemble with the people of the God of Abraham” (verse 10). The psalmist harks all the way back to Abraham, the patriarch who is at the root, not only of Israel, but also of other nations.

To the chosen people who descend from him is entrusted the mission of making all peoples and cultures converge toward the Lord, because he is the God of all humanity. From east to west they will then gather in Zion to meet this king of peace and love, unity and brotherhood (Matthew 8:11).

As the prophet Isaiah hoped, in the midst of their hostilities the peoples will receive the invitation to throw down their arms and live together under the one divine sovereignty, under a government ruled by justice and peace (Isaiah 2:2-5).

Christ Fulfills Psalm 47

Everyone will look to the New Jerusalem, where the Lord “ascends” to reveal himself in the glory of his divinity. It will be “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue. ... They cried out in a loud voice: 'Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:9, 10).

The letter to the Ephesians sees the fulfillment of this prophecy in the mystery of Christ the Redeemer when, addressing non-Jewish Christians, it says: “Remember that at one time you, gentiles in the flesh, ... were at that time without Christ, alienated from the community of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world.

“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” (Ephesians 2:11-14).

The kingship of God that this psalm extols has therefore been realized on earth in Christ's king-ship over all peoples.

An anonymous eighth-century homily comments on the mystery in this way: “Until the coming of the Messiah, the hope of the nations, the gentile peoples did not adore God and did not know who he was. And until the Messiah rescued them, God did not reign over the nations through their obedience and worship. But now God reigns over them with his Word and his Spirit, because he has saved them from falsehood and has made them his friends” (anonymous Palestinian, eighth-century Arab-Christian Homily, Rome 1994, p. 100).

[Translation by Zenit and Register)