In my personal devotion time I was reading and listening to Psalm 137 this morning. The Psalm tells the story of the Israelites when they were captives in Babylon, after being conquered. The Israelites were removed from their homeland and forcibly integrated into the Babylonian culture. This was an intentional strategy by the Babylonians to cause them to forget their originating nationality and instead “become Babylonian”. In the story you can feel the hurt of the writer, especially in where the captors are telling him to “sing the songs of Zion”, but like that of a casual tale, vs. a story of their faith. The writer continues to convey how if he cannot remember the Lord, may he lose all of his faculties, skill, and words. This is a strong passage, because he is essentially conveying that if he cannot live his life for the Lord, may he cease to bring anything to the world at all.
The end of the Psalm continues with the writer recalling what happened in the fall of Jerusalem. He remembers how the Temple was destroyed and continues with that memory, bringing forth a desire to eventually destroy the house of Babylon. I took a moment to place myself in the position of the writer and recalled that ancient memory, attempting to experience the pain that he must have felt in watching the temple destroyed. I then thought of how I would have felt had that same occurrence happened to me. Imagine a someone saying, “hey… remember that church we destroyed? Can you sing a few songs about that to amuse everyone?” Placing yourself in that moment, you can understand how the writer is calling on himself and his people to “remember Zion”.
I left that moment reminded that in a way, we live as the historical Israelites now. I am sometimes discouraged in my career by the way our culture (especially American culture) has been captured by greed and has disintegrated God in favor of humanism and consumerism. I sometimes feel like an Israelite who is held in captivity and is being asked to forget. The culture we live in beats the drum of consumerism and the thumps are advancement and acquisition instead of service and love. The culture is trying to “make us forget” in a similar way to which the Israelites were called to forget their homeland and their God. This reminds us that we must remember who we are. If we remember who we are, we will not allow ourselves to be spiritually conquered, but instead to survive and flourish.
The ancient Israelites were a people who despite their failures, were able to retain many of the stories which held together their culture. Their failure is that they retained only the framework of their culture and instead forgot the spirit of it. This caused them to misunderstand who Jesus was and to completely miss who God was calling them to be. This is a theme that is occurring today in the sense that we often retain our Catholic framework (Baptisms, Christmas, Easter, etc.) but we don’t let it permeate our lives and often miss what Christ is asking us to do. This is very apropos for a business person, as we are called to let the character of our faith infuse how we work.
I didn’t expect to find the fall of Israel and captivity in Babylon to impact me in such a significant way, but God has a tendency to surprise us. It’s a reminder for me that we’re called to be different. I’m often thinking of the man who comes to Jesus having “done everything” who is asked to give away all his wealth. At that moment he realizes that he is sad, because he “had many possessions”. I don’t however believe it was just because he had many possessions but because he loved those possessions. The story doesn’t tell if the man ever gave up his possessions and turned to Jesus. I sometimes wonder what I would do in that moment. Would I be sad or would I drop everything I had to follow? Given Psalm 137 I ask myself to remember and to be ready when the Lord asks, in spirit and in deed.