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Psalm 147:12-20

Praising the Lord while Anti-Semitic Attacks Abound

At the time I write this, I awoke to the news of the stabbing of 5 people at the home of a Rabbi in Harlem, NY. Members of the Rabbi’s community had gathered in his home to celebrate Hanukkah, but just within an hour, a man with a large knife described as “a machete” forced his way into the suburban house with the intent to kill or maim those present. The Hasidic Jews responded quickly and managed to throw several pieces of furniture at the attacker to subdue him until the police arrive. Nevertheless, two of the five victims suffered a severe injury, and one remains in critical care. This attack comes right on the heels of another attack in Jersey at a Kosher Market place. This gunman claimed six lives, and shortly after was identified as a member of an anti-Semitic hate group.

It was the twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth who famously said that when preparing to preach, you ought to “have a bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.” He then continued, “Read both. But interpret the newspaper from your Bible.” In my experience, pastors and theologians quote the last half of Barth’s suggestion far less; conveniently, this second half of Barth’s advice seems to this writer the most challenging part to follow.

How can God’s people read the headlines “5 Wounded in Stabbing at Rabbi’s Home in N.Y. Suburb” or “Suspect in Jersey City shooting targeted kosher market” from a Psalm that begins with “Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!” and then continues to speak of God’s strength and faithfulness? I am sure there are many ways to answer this question. Christians and Jews have been praising God in times of suffering for millenniums now. However, in the context of a divided country whose internal terrorist and hate groups are growing bolder, I find two angles most helpful.

The first is through the lens of promise. This Psalm reminds Israel of their special place in God’s plane (v.19-20), and that their covenant means that God will protect them. It tells us that God is strong during times such as these and that God’s love and care trumps hate and violence. The Psalm also promises a peace that, while not present currently, will one day come. There is solace in these promises; however, there is also the danger of the words feeling empty. In my view, finding either comfort or emptiness in these verses is permissible, for both responses connect us with those Christians and Jews who, throughout God’s salvific history, have read this Psalm during times of turmoil and felt similarly. Feeling God’s presence or absence is part of our tradition. Moreover, while the Bible offers us hope in this case, we cannot set aside the newspaper that, on this morning at the very least, does not provide comfort.

The second way to read this text is through the theme of empowerment and defiance. If nothing else, God’s people are resilient. And God’s strength is with them