Psalm 137 – Let my tongue be silenced, if I ever forget you!

I realize that four days have passed since the 4th Sunday in Lent, but with school starting up again this week and trying to plan lessons for my students for the upcoming chapters, I have not been able to spend time on this blog. As much as I love teaching theology in the classroom, my practical work – the work that pays the bills often gets in the way of my blogging. There is humor in this statement and there is also frustration. A new friend tweeted me the other night and said that work (work that pays the bills) often gets in the way of the New Evangelization. I agreed with him, but then I thought about it again and said to myself, well I am doing the New Evangelization, with my high school students. I teach them “basic” theology in hope that when they leave us, they will go on to continue to grow in their faith and expand their knowledge of the Catholic Church.  With that being said, I now turn to Psalm 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, and 6.

Psalm 137 begins in exile and it’s a psalm of lamentation. This psalm is reminding us that the Jews are suffering in the land of their Babylonian oppressors after the destruction of Jerusalem in the years of 587-586 B.C. According to Pope Benedict XVI, we are reading a national song of sadness that reflects the things of the past that are being missed in exile. Although this psalm speaks of the suffering of the Jews in Babylon, it does give hope that the Lord will save his people from their captors and the slavery they find themselves in currently. This psalm is yet another good reminder for us during this Season of Lent because it’s during this season that we reflect on our own sins which bounds us to this earth as slaves are bound to the land they work. We also reflect and hope on the salvation that will come at end of Holy Week when Our Lord will sacrifice himself as the one, true, and perfect sacrifice on the cross.

A Levitical (temple priest) musician whose life in the temple was to write music wrote verses Psalm 137 more than likely. The psalmist was probably taken into exile with his fellow Jews around the year 587 B.C. Since the psalm is speaking of the disaster, we can assume that the temple has been completely destroyed and the Jews are held captive in Babylon and are weeping because they are no longer in Zion. The term – Zion – was a name for Jerusalem. The “songs of Zion” were known as the “songs of the Lord” and should only be sung and played in the temple. When the Babylonian captors requested that the “songs of the Lord” be played for them, it’s done with sarcasm. All they are looking to do is cause sadness in the Jews. In verse 2, when it says, “we hung up our harps”, means that the lyres (small harp like instrument) were silent and were not played.

A small note to add separate from the psalm is that Babylon had many rivers and streams. This is where the psalmist is more than likely writing this psalm near. It is through these waterways that the Persians would enter Babylon and conquer them. See Jeff Cavins’ Bible Timeline for a clear understanding of the Exile for Israel and Judah and the world powers of Babylon and Persia.

Verses 4-5 are speaking about how the songs that were sung in the temple and Jerusalem could not be sang in a foreign land. Although they lost the city of Jerusalem, the songs that they once sang are still in their hearts. The words “may my right hand be forgotten” is in reference to the inability to play the lyre if the Lord is forgotten in this foreign land. This idea of keeping the songs in their hearts can be reflected on in the early life of Karol Wojtyla  (Blessed John Paul II) when him and his friends formed a Rhapsodic Theater to keep alive the art of the Polish culture as well as the importance of Catholicism in that culture. Even though the Nazi’s had outlawed public Polish theatre, this group came together secretly and helped the Polish culture flourish after the war had ended.

Verse 6 speaks about how the psalmist makes the wealth care of Jerusalem more important than his own wealth care. Jerusalem is the quasi-Sacrament of God’s sacred people. It’s through the people of Israel that the world will be blessed. Jerusalem is very close to God. There is a theological understanding of the Church happening here, it is the sacrament to the world. The Catholic Church is the Sacrament of Jesus. The world’s hope is tied with the Church. Israel finds her fulfillment in the Catholic Church; however, the Jews are still the chosen people.

As we draw closer to the conclusion of Lent, let us pray to the Lord that we will have the desire to know God more and to keep Him close to our hearts. Let us also pray for those individuals in the Church that are bitter and cynical to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Church. As St. Joan of Arc said, “Jesus and the Church are one.” And finally, let us pray for those who don’t know Our Lord at all and have either never found Him or just choose to not believe in Him. May the beauty of the New Jerusalem shine in our hearts for all eternity.

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