Good morning! Today, I invite us to read Lamentations 4 and 5 as Swiss theologian Karl Barth suggested that preachers preach: with the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other. In the last several days, it has been hard to miss news stories about refugees and migrants—from America to Italy to Syria and beyond. The heartsickness and grave physical destitution of displaced peoples today and of residents in ancient Jerusalem is all from the same cloth. It comes about through warring violence as a direct cause, yet there are primal social sins at work as well.
I find it impossible to read Lamentations 4-5 without jumping to news reports from Aleppo, Syria and the shores of the Mediterranean Ocean. All that was once glorious is now bartered away for a simple crust of bread or drop of water. Famine, destitution and ongoing exploitation have turned people against each other. In Lamentations, mothers boil their own children for food (4:10) The people are disfigured and unrecognizable for their former glory. Wartime refugees from Israel then—and how many places now?—have become unwanted and defiling intruders among the nations. The cruel things shouted at Judeans in 4:15 would fit just as well at anti-immigrant rallies in Europe and the United States. Lamentations gives us a scriptural view into how suffering people once put words on their fate, and might do so again if we listened today.
The Semitic theology of Lamentations believes that such suffering has come about because of false prophets, unfaithful priests, and other manifestations of Judah’s sin. In other words, their pain is their own doing. But is it not also the case that Hebrew suffering was made worse by the sins of others—inhospitality of other nations, usurious prices for water and food, or malicious hardness of heart? This goes beyond a strict reading of the text, but it seems to me that where such suffering endures in the world, there’s more than enough blame to go around. Neither the people, their unwilling hosts, or any single person bears all the blame, yet everyone has a piece of it. Understood this way—suffering as a consequence of sin at work throughout every social relationship and interaction—we might also recognize possibilities for healing to abound in the same way. As hospitality, mercy and grace abound, we might see their increase through divine multiplication across the entire social field. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Ezekiel 1-5. Thanks for reading!