"The Lord Crowns the Humble With Victory"
Wednesday General Audience from May 23rd
"Let the faithful exult in glory; let them sing for joy on their couches." This appeal from Psalm 149, which was just proclaimed, refers to a dawn that is about to appear and finds the faithful ready to intone their morning praise. Such praise is defined, with the significant expression, "a new song" (verse 1), that is, a solemn and perfect hymn, suitable for the final days, in which the Lord will gather the just in a renewed world. The whole Psalm is suffused with a festive atmosphere, beginning already with the initial alleluia and marked by the rhythm of song, praise, joy, dance, the sound of tambourines and lyres. The prayer this Psalm inspires is thanksgiving of a heart filled with religious exultation.
2. In the Hebrew original of the hymn, the protagonists of the Psalm are referred to by two words that are characteristic of the spirituality of the Old Testament. Three times they are defined, above all, as hasidim (verses 1,5,9), namely, "the pious, the faithful," those who respond with fidelity and love (hesed) to the paternal love of the Lord.
The second part of the Psalm is puzzling, because it is full of bellicose expressions. It seems strange that, in the same verse, the Psalm combines "the praises of God in their mouths" with "a two-edged sword in their hands" (verse 6). Upon reflection, we are able to understand why: The Psalm was composed by "faithful" who were involved in a struggle for liberation; they were fighting to free their oppressed people and give them the possibility to serve God. During the time of the Maccabees, in the second century B.C., the combatants for liberty and the faith, subjected to harsh repression by the Hellenistic power, were, in fact, called hasidim, "the faithful," to the Word of God and the tradition of the fathers.
3. In the present perspective of our prayer, this bellicose symbolism becomes an image of our commitment as believers who, after having sung the morning praise to God, go out on the roads of the world, in the midst of evil and injustice. Unfortunately, the forces that are opposed to the Kingdom of God are imposing: The Psalmist speaks of "nations, peoples, kings and nobles." Yet, he is confident because he knows he has the Lord next to him, Who is the real King of history (verse 2). Therefore, his victory over evil is certain, and will be the triumph of love. All of the hasidim participate in this struggle, all the faithful and just who, with the strength of the Spirit, carry out to the end the wonderful work that the name Kingdom of God implies.
4. Beginning with the Psalm's references to the "choir" and the "tambourines and lyres," St. Augustine comments: "What does a choir represent? [...] The choir is an ensemble of singers who sing together. If we sing in a choir we must sing in harmony. When one sings in a choir, just one flat voice wounds the listener and puts the choir itself into a state of confusion" (Enarr. in Psalm 149: CCL 40,7,1-4).
Then, referring to the instruments used by the Psalmist, he asks: "Why does the Psalmist take the tambourine and Psalter in hand?" He answers: "Because not only voices but works also praise the Lord. When the tambourine and Psalter are taken, the hands are in agreement with the voice. So it is for you. When you sing the alleluia, you must give bread to the hungry, dress the naked, welcome the pilgrim. If you do this, it is not only the voice that sings, but the hands harmonize with the voice, inasmuch as words are in agreement with works" (Ibid., 8,1-4).
5. There is a second word with which those praying this Psalm are defined: They are the 'anawim, that is, "the poor, the humble" (verse 4). This is a very frequent expression in the Psalter, and indicates not only the oppressed, the poor, the persecuted for the cause of justice, but also those who, being faithful to the moral commitments of the Covenant with God, are marginalized by all those who choose violence, wealth and arrogance. In this light one understands that the "poor" is not only a social category but a spiritual choice. This is the meaning of the famous first Beatitude: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:3). The prophet Zephaniah already turned to the 'anawim, saying: "Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth, who have observed his law; seek justice, seek humility; perhaps you may be sheltered on the day of Lord's anger" (Zephaniah 2:3).
6. Well, the "day of the anger of the Lord" is, in fact, the one described in the second part of the Psalm when the "poor" are arrayed on the side of God to fight against evil. On their own, they do not have sufficient strength, or the means, or necessary strategies to oppose the outbreak of evil. Yet the phrase of the Psalmist does not allow for hesitations: "The Lord loves His people, He crowns the humble ('anawim) with victory" (verse 4). It is ideally configured when the Apostle Paul declares to the Corinthians: "God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are" (1 Corinthians 1:28).
With this confidence, "the sons of Zion" (verse 2). Hasidim and 'anawim, that is, the faithful and poor, prepare to live their witness in the world and in history. The Magnificat, the song of Mary in Luke's Gospel, is the echo of the best sentiments of the "sons of Zion": joyful praise to God the Savior, thanksgiving for the great things wrought in her by the Almighty, struggle against the forces of evil, solidarity with the poor, faithfulness to the God of the Covenant (see Luke 1:46-55).
[Translation by ZENIT]
For past Papal Pronouncements, see THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS Archives
May 24, 2001
volume 12, no. 130
THE VICAR OF CHRIST SPEAKS