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Psalm 126 [125]

Catechesis by Benedict XVI
- in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
Vespers (Evening Prayer), Wednesday Week 3

God our joy and our hope

1. Listening to the words of Psalm 126, one has the impression of seeing before one's eyes the event of the "new Exodus" that is sung of in the second part of the Book of Isaiah: the return of Israel from the Babylonian Exile to the land of her fathers after the edict of the Persian King Cyrus in 538 BC. It was thus a repetition of the joyful experience of the first Exodus, when the Jewish people were released from slavery in Egypt.

This Psalm acquired special significance when it was sung on the days when Israel felt threatened and afraid because she was once again being put to the test. Effectively, the Psalm contains a prayer for the return of the captives of that time. Thus, it became a prayer of the People of God in their historical wanderings, fraught with dangers and trials but ever open to trust in God the Saviour and Liberator, the support of the weak and the oppressed.

2. The Psalm introduces us into an atmosphere of exultation: people were laughing, celebrating their new-found freedom, and songs of joy were on their lips. There is a twofold reaction to the restored freedom.

On the one hand, the heathen nations recognized the greatness of the God of Israel: "What marvels the Lord worked for them!" (v2). The salvation of the Chosen People becomes a clear proof of the effective and powerful existence of God, present and active in history.

On the other hand, it is the People of God who profess their faith in the Lord who saves: "What marvels the Lord worked for us!" (v3).

3. Our thoughts then turn to the past, relived with a shudder of fear and affliction. Let us focus our attention on the agricultural image used by the Psalmist: "Those who are sowing in tears will sing when they reap" (v5). Under the burden of work, their faces are sometimes lined with tears: the sowing is laborious, perhaps doomed to uselessness and failure. But with the coming of the abundant, joyful harvest, they discover that their suffering has borne fruit.

The great lesson on the mystery of life's fruitfulness that suffering can contain is condensed in this Psalm, just as Jesus said on the threshold of his passion and death: "Unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit" (Jn 12: 24).

4. Thus, the horizon of the Psalm opens to the festive harvest, a symbol of joy born from the freedom, peace and prosperity that are fruits of the divine blessing. This prayer, then, is a song of hope to turn back to when one is immersed in moments of trial, fear, threats and inner oppression.

But it can also become a more general appeal to live one's days and make one's decisions in an atmosphere of faithfulness. In the end, perseverance in good, even if it is misunderstood and opposed, always reaches a landing place of light, fruitfulness and peace.

This is what St Paul reminded the Galatians: "If [a man] sows in the field of the flesh, he will reap a harvest of corruption; but if his seed-ground is the spirit, he will reap everlasting life. Let us not grow weary of doing good; if we do not relax our efforts, in due time we shall reap our harvest" (Gal 6: 8-9).

5. Let us end with a reflection on Psalm 126 by St Bede the Venerable (672/3-735), commenting on the words by which Jesus announced to his disciples the sorrow that lay in store for them, and at the same time the joy that would spring from their affliction.

Bede recalls that "Those who loved Christ were weeping and mourning when they saw him captured by his enemies, bound, carried away for judgment, condemned, scourged, mocked and lastly crucified, pierced by the spear and buried. Instead, those who loved the world rejoiced... when they condemned to a most ignominious death the One of whom the sight alone they could not tolerate. The disciples were overcome by grief at the death of the Lord, but once they had learned of his Resurrection, their sorrow changed to joy; then when they had seen the miracle of the Ascension, they praised and blessed the Lord, filled with even greater joy, as the Evangelist Luke testified.

"But the Lord's words can be applied to all the faithful who, through the tears and afflictions of this world, seek to arrive at eternal jubilation and rightly weep and grieve now, because they cannot yet see the One they love and because they know that while they are in the body they are far from the Homeland and the Kingdom, even if they are certain that they will reach it with their efforts and struggles. Their sorrow will change into joy when, after the struggle of this life, they receive the reward of eternal life, as the Psalm says: "Those who are sowing in tears will sing when they reap'.

BXVI - General Audience, Wednesday 17 August 2005 - © Copyright 2005 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana