Psalm 137 used to be a biblical text that I avoided with care. What do you do with a bloke who thinks that grabbing babies by the ankles and swinging them like a sack of flour into jagged rocks is an afternoon well spent?
However, tonight we made Psalm 137 the text for our family devotions. (This despite the fact that many church liturgies — not to mention probably all family devotionals — carefully avoid this disturbing text.) As I read the close of the psalm my ten year old daughter’s eyes opened wide with shock. Then I asked her a simple question: “What do you think that psalm is doing in the Bible?”
After a few seconds of reflection she replied: “To show us what not to do?” I pressed her for more details and she explained: “Well we’re supposed to love our neighbors, not hurt them. Like if there’s a bully at my school. I shouldn’t hope he gets in a car crash.”
She got it. From there on in the text provided a powerful platform for reflective discussion as we wrestled with questions like this: How do we strike out at others when we’ve been wronged? How do we fail to love our enemy? Do we unwittingly perpetuate cycles of abuse and oppression by hurting those who have hurt us?
In those few precious moments a text that is often avoided as a moral embarassment became a disturbing window into the decay of our own souls even as it pointed beyond itself to the one who called us to love our enemy and pray for those who hurt us.