Tag Archives: Solidarity

Vehement Prayer

Read Psalm 137

“Depart from evil, and do good; so you shall abide forever. For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his faithful ones. The righteous shall be kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.” (Psalms 37:27-28 NRSV)

BesideTheRiversOfBabylon_VehementPrayer2This is an incredibly hard text to deal with. I mean, what can be possible said to justify the words that we’ve just read. What can possible be said to defend the horrifying imagery that the psalmist has forever etched into our heads? What can possibly justify the killing of innocent babies and/or children? Why would that even be in the Bible? What constructive good could possibly come for such atrocious and violent rhetoric? What’s more, what can I possibly say about this text that will transform it into something relevant for our lives in today’s time?

First, I always think it is important to understand the historical context of the text before trying to understand the text itself. We are blessed with this Psalm because it actually dates itself, which gives us a really good place to start in understanding what was going on there. The psalmist opens the Psalm in the following way: “By the rivers of Babylon–there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalms 137:1 NRSV). So we know where this Psalm takes place, “beside the rivers of Babylon”, which means that the Psalm was written by a Jew within Babylon.

What this ultimately means is that this is a Psalm that comes out of the Exilic Period in Jewish history. This period happened in three waves between 605 BCE and 538 BCE. The Exile of the Jews lasted until the Persian king, Cyrus II, decreed that the Jews could return to their homeland following the Persian takeover of Babylon a year earlier in October of 539 BCE. (NOTE: Before Common Era (BCE) years count backwards.) This means that the Psalm had to be written sometime between 605 and 539 BCE.

The dating of this Psalm is further evidenced by the fact that the psalmist is “remembering Zion, implying that it was laid to waste. What that means is that this psalmist was among those taken captive back to Babylon during the third exilic wave (July or August of 587 BCE), following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple built by Solomon. Let’s put this into perspective. When Babylon came in and seiged Jerusalem for the third time (due to Judah rebelling against King Nebuchadnezzar), they were made a bloody example of for anyone else who would dare challenge and conspire against the Babylonian Empire who they were previously conquered by and subject to.

So, to be precise, at the time of the Babylonian attack on Judah, there was an estimated population of 75,000 people living in Judah, and Jerusalem was probably much of that population being that it was the main city. Of that population, 20,000 people were deported and brought back to Babylon in exile. That’s over 25% of the population. Now, we all remember what happened on 9/11, just imagine if, on top of the attacks, 25% of all Americans were taken to another country to live.

Just put that into perspective of how horrifying, how awful, and how humiliating that must have been. Twenty-five percent! The remaining 75% were either dead, or were left in Judah to watch their countryside, villages, and the city of Jerusalem smolder, literally. Jerusalem itself, destroyed and depopulated, lay largely in ruins for the next 150 years. Many of their men, women and children were dead, the rest exiled to a foreign land or left to rot in a smoldering land, and they were the utter and absolute laughing stock of an empire.

This psalmist is letting out his or her violent reaction, and getting it out in the open, and that is perfectly okay. Does God condone violence, or dashing infants’ heads on stone? No, I do not believe that God does. Nor does this psalmist even claim that God states that. The violence in this psalm is really a vehement prayer of anguish to God and God does understand the wounded heart of the anguished psalmist and of all people who suffer injustice and pain. God not only understands the oppressed, but stands in solidarity with them, working to bring about justice to those who are suffering under the weight of evil.

It is important for us to know that it is okay if we cry out vehemently to God when we are desperate for justice, for God knows our pain and is working to bring about justice in our situations and in the world. What’s more, we are also challenged to check to see where our own allegiances lie. Are we standing in solidarity with the oppressed, just as God is, or are we among the oppressors who are adding insult to injury? In the end, justice ALWAYS prevails. It did eventually in Babylon, and it will in our world too. Evaluate yourself. Which side are you on?

“Prayer is the tearing open of your rib cage so that your heart can breathe.” – Rob Bell
Lord, hear my own vehement prayers anguish and also lead me to become an answered prayer for those who suffer. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 2: Poor in Spirit

Read Matthew 5:3; Luke 6:20

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon Me, for the LORD has anointed Me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent Me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.” (Isaiah 61:1 NLT)

wealth-gapIn the Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus, with his disciples gathered around him, stood up before a crowd of people and began to teach them. “Blessed are the poor in Spirit,” he began, projecting his voice for the multitude to hear, “for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” The crowd was in shock as Jesus uttered these words and, no doubt, the sounds of gasps and whispers could be heard moving from mouths to ears throughout the crowd.

It’s not that the crowd was unaware that God takes the side of the poor. Surely, there is Scripture throughout the Old Testament that shows God favoring the poor. In Isaiah 61:1, the prophet writes that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him in order that he might bring the good news of God’s favor to the poor. Also, the wise, sagely, author of Proverbs wrote that God’s justice will fall swift and hard on anyone who tries to take advantage of the poor, for God is their defender (Proverbs 22:22-23).

What was most shocking to the crowd was that Jesus proclaimed, with authority, that God was not merely the defender of the poor, which ultimately defends the status quo; rather, God is their liberator. It’s one thing for God to “defend the poor” against people who try to “take advantage” of them, but it is something entirely different for them to be the heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven, as this suggests that God rejects the place the poor have been put in, despite the fact that the world wishes to keep them in that place. This puts the world at odds with God.

Some have mistakenly taken Matthew’s use of the phrase “poor in spirit” to be a “spiritualization” of Jesus’ proclamation of blessing upon the literal poor found in Luke. However, phrase “poor in spirit” does not exclude literal poverty from the equation; rather, it shifts the emphasis to what it means to be the people of God. What Jesus is doing is pointing to a quality within the poor that sets them a part from the rich and, in Matthew, Jesus uses the phrase similarly to how it was used in the War Scroll found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This scroll, written about 80 or so years prior to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, utilizes the phrase “poor in spirit” (1 QM 14:7) to denote God’s true people in contrast to the rich and powerful heirarchy of Jerusalem.

The poor, therefore, are people who are not in a position to be proud and independent. By virtue of their poverty, they are humble and their spirit has been crushed. They have to daily rely on their faith and hope in God’s promise to bring them justice and liberation from their plight. It is such people who, in their humility, recognize their need for God, while the rich and proud look to their own power, status and capabilities to attain what they believe they need. Jesus’ use of the phrase “the poor in spirit” both points us to God’s solidarity with the impoverished and to the kind of spirit they possess as a result of their poverty.

If we wish to inherit God’s Kingdom, we need to stand in solidarity with our Lord, who stands in solidarity with the poor. The only way to do so is to let go of our pride, to stop seeing ourselves as being “independent” and above those who are not, and begin to embody a spirit of humility. It is in such humility that we will recognize our need for God, and it is in such humility that we will trust our Lord enough to follow him. While the world scoffs and criticizes the poor, while the world mocks their need for help and assistance, the challenge for us is to embrace the poor, as well as their humble spirit. In doing so we will certainly be embracing our lowly Lord himself.

“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest. “ – Nelson Mandela
Lord, empty me of my pride and fill me with humility so that I may be counted among the poor in spirit. Amen.

Notre Dieu de la Solidarité

Read Luke 10:25-37

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; [God] saves those whose spirits are crushed.” (Psalm 34:18 CEB)

earth-hour-2009It has been a week since the terrible attacks that were simultaneously waged on the people of Paris, France. In those attacks 129 were killed, including one American, and tons more were injured. It was the bloodiest attack on France since World War II and the country was seriously thrown into a state of emergency as the French government tries to figure out how to cope amid such evil. On top of this, as evidence of the small world we live in, it turns out that there were people I knew over in Paris during the night of the attacks.

Instantly, in response to these attacks, people started showing their solidarity with France and the French people, by flying French Flags and by changing their profile pictures and covers to the French flag and/or French colors. Youy can go anywhere on Facebook without seeing a billion little French Flag icons, each of them represent a person who is standing in compassionate solidarity for the country of France and the city of Paris. It doesn’t take too long to remember back to September 11, 2001 to remember that when the United States of America was attacked, the French flew the American Flag in solidarity with us.

Aside from all of the positive reaction to the egregious evil that was committed against the French people on that evening of Friday, November 13th, there has been some negative reaction as well. Out of fear people are saying all sorts of things. When fear strikes at our hearts, we often find ourselves rationalizing and justifying things that would horrify us in normal situations. I have heard a Christian pastor on YouTube calling out the sins of France as a reason for the attacks, much like some pastors did in the days following September 11th. Conversely, there are no doubt antitheists who have seen this as just another reason why religions should be eradicated from the world. Such people perpetuate the old, tired and groundless argument that “religion is the cause of all of the world’s wars.” That is of course just as untrue and ridiculous as the aforementioned pastor’s egregious theology that God used the attacks to “punish” the French people.

Of course, there are egregious political claims being made as well. All of these things, in the end, continue the work to divide, rather than unite, humanity. Why is it that human beings can’t seem to find common ground on anything. Even as millions show the French colors in solidarity with their pain and suffering, others are divisively working to drive more fear and separation in the hearts of those around them? Where is God in all of this? Where is God in the attacks? Where is God in the aftermath of the attacks? Where is God in the midst of such crazed and poisonouss rhetoric?

The truth is that God is present through the people who are showing their love to the French people and to all peoples who suffer. Through the neighbors who pulled strangers into their homes to shelter them from the terrorists, to the first responders literally picking people, and sometimes pieces of people, off of the streets of Paris, to the millions flying French colors to show their love and support, GOD IS PRESENT and GOD IS WORKING. God is present through the psychologists, the doctors, the nurses, and hospital workers. God is present through the humanitarian workers seeking to relieve the French people, as well as the countless refugees seeking refuge from persectution. God does not discriminate the way we do. God does NOT “punish” people. We are the ones who punish each other and ourselves with hateful and ungodly ideas and theologies. The question for us is, where are we? Where are we in all of this? Are we with God in the midst of such senseless and evil tragedies, or are we with the divisive and wicked world? My prayer is that we find ourselves standing with God in solidarity with and support of the hurt, the hopeless and the displaced.

Be wary of any belief or ideology that promotes division between you and your fellow human beings.” – Unknown, shared by Eugene Steficek on Facebook

Lord, place in the lives of the lost, the broken, the hurt, the hopeless, and the displaced so that I may stand in solidarity with and support of them. Amen.