In the rural town of UM in Pakistan where we lived for about 7 years there was quite an ethnic, linguistic and religious mix of people. Ethnically we were Baluch, Pashto, Sindhi, Punjabi and Australian. Our languages reflected these ethnic groups, but the common language amongst us was Urdu (the national language of Pakistan). The religions consisted of Muslim (about 98%), Hindu (about 1.5%) and Christian (about 0.5%). Added to this was the mix of social standing. Amongst us were the very rich and well educated (called the “zamindars” or land owners), all the way down to the uneducated illiterate village people and then, even some beggars. We (the two Aussie families) confused a few people by relating to as many people in this mix as we were able. One of the positive sides of life in UM was that somehow this diverse people managed to generally live in peace (everybody had guns except us), even if never in equality.
Until a fateful day when religion/politics overruled all other social niceties and UM was in chaos. The catalyst was a problem in India between Hindus and Muslims there. Sadly, this overflowed over to Pakistan and the Muslim students in UM came out onto the streets to protest and “pay back” the Hindu population there, despite them being innocent of any blame. Unfortunately, it developed into looting and burning of the Hindu shops.
When the students came near our TB clinic, I saw them burn down the Hindu guys tea shop opposite (as if he had anything to do with the problems in India!). This was bad enough, but the guys who had businesses nearby (my neighbours) and often drank tea in his shop, stood there laughing at the unjust, illogical, unfair and illegal activity of these students. I realized the risk of getting involved (belonging to another minority religion), but felt I just couldn’t stand by and say nothing. So, I spoke to my neighbours and challenged them concerning laughing at such injustice instead of doing the right thing and protecting the shop keeper. At least, they stopped laughing!
Psalm 79reminds me, just a little, of how angry and sad I felt that day, although as you read it you will understand that it was far worse than the situation in UM.
It is a Psalm of Lament and indignation at the injustice happening all around Asaph, who was the author. He begins:
O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance;
they have defiled your holy temple,
they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
2 They have left the dead bodies of your servants
as food for the birds of the sky,
the flesh of your own people for the animals of the wild.
3 They have poured out blood like water
all around Jerusalem,
and there is no one to bury the dead.
4 We are objects of contempt to our neighbours,
of scorn and derision to those around us.
The year was 587 BC and the city of Jerusalem had been invaded by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon (2 Kings 25). The King’s commander set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down… [he also] broke down the walls around Jerusalem… [and] carried into exile the people who remained in the city [including the King of Israel]. (25:8-11)
It is no surprise that Asaph was horrified, outraged and despondent. The great city of Jerusalem (chosen and loved by God – Psalm 78:68) has been destroyed. Many of the people were killed and others taken into exile. The King was humiliated and taken to Babylon as a prisoner of war. And the temple, the worship centre for Yahweh, had been defiled, looted and set on fire. All hope is lost. Or has it?
Sometimes we should be upset and indignant (maybe more often than we actually are) about the injustice around us and even stand up for those who are unable to speak up for themselves. May God grant us love, compassion, wisdom and courage. May we know when it is the time to be silent and the time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Amen.