Events on the news can seem faraway. Tragic, but someone else’s problem.
That is not so with events in Israel and Gaza this week. These are not just tragedies. They are existential. Our Jewish neighbours and friends know and love folks who have been killed or kidnapped. They await news on hostage infants, elderly, youth, and they fear the worst.
Here is what I hear in conversation with Rabbi Yael Splansky of Holy Blossom, who preached for us in August, and with Rabbi Steve Wernek of Beth Tzedec: please advocate for us. Demand the release of the captives. Be resolute in your own moral clarity. These are civilian hostages, and their use as bargaining chips, as human shields, is a crime and a violation of international laws of warfare. Their parishioners are praying with urgency and anguish. Let us join them.
Jesus came promising “release to the captives,” an instantiation of the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:18). We pray, Lord God of Israel and of all people, that that time would be now.
Praying through all of this, I landed on Psalm 44, and was struck how differently the psalmist prays than we do. The first 9 verses or so recite God’s faithfulness to the Israelites in Exodus and beyond. Typical, normal stuff. But then the psalmist turns: now we are crushed, oh God. And it’s your fault. This is not a way that I pray, in fact, I have shields up against this sort of prayer. Verses 17-21 insist and we were innocent. We did nothing to deserve this. Often when scripture ponders sorrow, it turns to repentance. Not here. If anything, it’s God who needs to act, to “repent,” to change course. And the final verses, 23-26, insist that God do so now. Urgently. Enough already of this. Show you are God and deliver. Again, not a way I pray.
But as a lover of the Bible, of the stories and sighs of Israel, I ought to.
And it is hard to imagine a better prayer if you are captive in a Gazan basement than that. We join our Jewish elder siblings in faith in praying for the peace of Jerusalem, for release for the captives, for staying the hand of all who bring terror, and strengthening the arms of those who make for peace. Always, but especially now. God, act. We need it urgently.