Psalm 137 on the International Day to Eliminate Racial Discrimination

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, held each year on March 21, the anniversary of the Sharpville massacre of innocent demonstrators against Apartheid in a black township 50km outside Johannesburg.

By happy circumstance, reader Ben White sent The Other Cheek a reflection based on his studying in a Bible College, in which a Bible passage turned his mind toward racial justice. Of the diverse readers of The Other Cheek, can we gently hint that Ben is not on our leftward fringe? The Bible challenges all of at The Other Cheek.

By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” (Psalm 137: 1-3)

I had something of an epiphany moment last night at Bible College in the lecture. We looked at Psalm 137, which is part of the words in Boney M’s ‘Rivers of Babylon’ song. We looked at how the Jewish people had lost their land and were dispossessed and exiled.

The Psalm talks about their worry about their culture and maintaining that in a foreign land. The Psalm ends in anger and a call for revenge. My lecturer asked us, how we might like it if that same thing happened to us?

In considering my response, I realised that the Aboriginal people at [the white] settlement pretty much had the same thing happen to them and would have had all the same concerns as the exiled Jews in Babylon. The point really struck home.

It got past politics and into a more real understanding of what people actually go through. How can I realistically change the situation in a positive way? Reflecting on the Psalm, I saw a situation from a point of empathy, not politics, and I’ve been meditating on it today.