JOHN PAUL II
Sing in praise of Christ's redeeming work
1. Psalm 91 which we have just heard, the song of the righteous man to God the Creator, has a special place in the ancient Hebrew tradition. In fact, the title given to this Psalm indicates that it was sung on the Sabbath (cf. v. 1). Hence, it is the hymn raised to the Most High and Eternal Lord when, at sundown on Friday, we enter the holy day of prayer, contemplation and serene stillness of body and spirit.
After this appeal not to break the interior and exterior thread of prayer, the true and constant breath of faithful humanity, Psalm 91 presents, as though in two portraits the profile of the wicked (cf. vv. 7-10) and of the just person (cf. vv. 13-16). The wicked man, moreover, is brought before the Lord, "the most high for ever" (v. 9), who will make his enemies perish and will scatter all evildoers (cf. v. 10). Indeed, only in the divine light can we understand the depth of good and evil, justice and wickedness.
3. The figure of the sinner is described with images from the vegetable world: "though the wicked sprout like grass, and all evildoers flourish" (v. 8). But this flourishing is destined to shrivel and disappear. In fact, the Psalmist heaps up verbs and words that describe the devastation: "they are doomed to destruction for ever ... Your enemies, O Lord, shall perish, all evildoers shall be scattered" (vv. 8.10).
At the root of this catastrophic outcome is the profound evil that grips the minds and hearts of the wicked: "The dull man cannot know, the stupid cannot understand this" (v. 7). The adjectives used here belong to the language of wisdom and denote the brutality, blindness and foolishness of those who think they can rage over the face of the earth without moral consequences, deceiving themselves that God is absent and indifferent. Instead, the person praying is certain that sooner or later the Lord will appear on the horizon to establish justice and break the arrogance of the fool (cf. Psalm 13).
4. Here we stand before the figure of the upright person, sketched as in a vast, richly coloured painting. Here too the Psalmist has used fresh, luxuriant green plant images (Ps 91, 13-16). As opposed to the wicked, who is luxuriant but short-lived like the grass of the fields, the upright person rises toward heaven, solid and majestic like the palm tree or a cedar of Lebanon. Besides, the just "flourish in the courts of our God" (v. 14), namely, they have a particularly sound and stable relationship with the temple, hence with the Lord, who has established his dwelling in them.
The Christian tradition also played on the double meaning of the Greek word
phoinix, used to translate the Hebrew term for "palm tree". Phoinix is the Greek word for "palm", but also for the bird we call the "phoenix". Everyone knows that the phoenix was a symbol of immortality because it was believed that the bird was reborn from its ashes. Christians have a similar rebirth from ashes, though their participation in the death of Christ, the source of new life (cf. Rom 6,3-4). "But God ... even when we were dead through our transgression, brought us to life with Christ", the Letter to the Ephesians says, "and raised us up with him" (2,5-6).
Origen's comment, translated by St Jerome: God's oil keeps the lamp of life burning brightly
The Holy Father greeted the pilgrims in French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Flemish, Hungarian, Slovak, Croatian and Italian. To the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors the Holy Father said:
I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience. Upon all of you, especially those from England, Iceland, Australia, Singapore, Japan and the United States of America, I invoke the joy and peace of the Risen Saviour.