Like Lamentations 1, Psalm 137 is a poem of lament arising from Israel’s captivity in Babylon. Lamentations 1 is written from the perspective of those left behind in Jerusalem. Psalm 137 is written from the perspective of those carried off into exile.
One reason for the tears of Psalm 137 are the taunts of Israel’s “captors” and “tormentors.” But even more than this goading, the exiles weep because they are far from home; strangers “in a strange land” (kjv).
Few of us have faced captors or tormentors, so we may not feel much of a firsthand connection to this lament. But then we remember that the apostle Paul declares that our “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20) and that Jesus tells Pilate that his “kingdom is not from this world” (John 18:36).
Those who follow Jesus are indeed like these exiles, strangers in a strange land. So we weep when we watch the news, when we encounter cynicism and cruelty, when we hear of a friend’s cancer diagnosis, or when we stand by the grave of a child. In each case something in us says, “This is not how it should be.” Or at least, we hope this is our response. These tears are the appropriate response of those whose citizenship is in heaven. They are the tears of alienation and exile. They remind us that we are out of step with the ways and powers of this world and that for a time we are separated from the Garden for which we were created and the New Jerusalem for which we are destined.
Lord, we weep over the brokenness and brutality of our world. May our tears spur us to pray all the more passionately: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10, kjv). Amen.
Moving from the sadness of Lamentations 1 to the thanksgiving prayer of 2 Timothy 1 is to move from total darkness to “the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abol- ished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Lamentations 1 and Psalm 137 are both painful laments from the vantage point of the exile. Both laments drama- tize the expression of honest pain, which offers to God anger as well as grief. In contrast, the New Testament texts speak of faith. The writer of the epistle delights in Timothy’s heritage of faith, nurtured by mother and grandmother and empowered by divine gifts of love and self-discipline. But it is a heritage that must put itself at risk for the sake of the gospel and not inch in the face of inevitable suffering. The disciples ask Jesus for “more” faith, only to be told that faith cannot be quanti ed.
• Read Lamentations 1:1-6. When have your tears of regret washed away illusion? How do you begin again after repen- tance?
• Read Psalm 137. Recall a time when someone angered you. How did you deal with your anger?
• Read 2 Timothy 1:1-14. The author states that when we shed tears for another person we “testify to our profound connect- edness to others.” When in your life have you shed tears for the suffering of another?
• Read Luke 17:5-10. How do you experience gratitude even as you live with the demands of the Christian life?
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