Saturday, September 24, 2016

Year C, Proper 22, Psalm 137, Curse You, Red Baron!

"Happy shall he be who takes your little ones, *
and dashes them against the rock!"

So the Israelites had an issue with the Babylonians.  They had been captured.  They were in exile.  They suffered greatly.  They were angry.  And so they wrote this Psalm that we now have in the Bible.

The Lutheran Book of Worship, our previous hymnal, omitted this Psalm from its pages.  We skipped right from 136 to 138.  It was censored out.  Something seemed incredibly wrong about including a Psalm in  worship that spoke about bashing, or dashing, babies against a rock.  

Yet, in another way, the fact that this Psalm is included in the Bible says something about God, and, wait for it, his grace.  

First, a couple observations.  Clearly the author of the Psalm was overcome with anger toward Israel's captors, the Babylonians, and the slavery which they were being subjected to by the Babylonians.  The tipping point in the Psalm was the taunting by the Babylonians, expecting their slaves to entertain them with the songs of Zion, even while they were captive in a foreign land.  It was salt on an open festering wound.

But also, this Psalm is an indirect cursing directed at God.  The Prophets of Israel had made clear that the Babylonian exile was more than just a tragic episode in Israel's history.  It was seen as a judgment by God of the unfaithfulness of the nation.  And so in saying "Curse you, Babylonians!" the Israelites were also saying "Curse you, God?" for bringing this judgment upon us.

Which is where God's grace comes in.

God allows for us to cry out in our  anguish and anger, even against him.  And he listens.  He not only allows it.  Tolerates it.  But it would seem, he welcomes the honesty and forthrightness.  And he answers.

God's judgment happened.  But his deliverance also followed.  Cyrus was called in from the east and Israel returned home.  

Psalm 137 is the precursor to Isaiah 40:
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord 's hand
double for all her sins.

Perhaps, when everything is said and done, the truth is simply this, that God invites our honesty, even if that involves feelings of rage, more than he demands our politeness.  

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