The first casualties of upheaval can be love, kindness, and patience. But crisis is also a moment when love for God & one another can spring up. For 150 days, starting on 17th March 2020, I will write 300 words based on one of the 150 psalms in the bible. How can I find and give love in the midst of coronavirus?
I really like the film ‘Seven’. It’s a gory crime thriller starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt. It has a bit of religion chucked in for good measure. However, I will never watch it again because the end of the movie is so dark, so bleak – that it feels like it sucks the joy out of me.
Psalm 137 goes along quite well until we reach the last verse. It is arguably the most difficult and unpleasant verse in all the Psalms.
Anyway, let’s start at the beginning. (When I read these words I cannot help myself humming along to the 1978 song by the band Boney M).
1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.
2 There on the poplars we hung our harps, 3 for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’
The Jews had been taken into captivity in Babylon (597 BC) and were living as exiles. They longed for their homeland, instead of living as foreigners and prisoners. They couldn’t bring themselves to sing of Jerusalem – too sad. Those who have been removed from their homes – Syrian refugees, Jews in a concentration camp, Indians & Pakistanis forced to relocate during partition in 1947 – long for their homes and are filled with sadness.
Many of us grieve for the things that we have lost. Homes, relationships, jobs. This grief is to be expected – and not to be run away from. It is OK to shed tears over what has been taken from us.
Our psalmist then goes in a direction which is understandable, but probably not the way of Jesus. They start looking for revenge.
Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. ‘Tear it down,’ they cried, ‘tear it down to its foundations!’ 8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us.
It is important not to pretend that we don’t feel like this sometimes – even if we live in a much more settled environment than our exiles. We are angry. We want revenge. We may even pray for revenge. It’s a common reaction. The problem is that revenge has no end – and it can take us to the final verse – the dark one:
9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.
When we have been hurt – this is how we can feel. We want those who have hurt us to feel pain – real pain. And what more pain is there than to see your children killed.
But, and it’s a very big but – this is not the way of Jesus. It is an understandable human reaction when you and your people have been abused – but it is not the way of the kingdom of God.
This again, is why the psalms need to be read through the eyes of Jesus.
So I acknowledge my grief, I acknowledge my anger, I acknowledge my desire for revenge – but I do not stop there – I turn to Jesus who told me to “turn the other cheek” and to “love my enemies”. It’s a lot harder than revenge (revenge is easy) – but it is the way of eternity and the kingdom of God.
May God help us to show mercy today.