Shock & Awe: A Homily for Gaza Based on Psalm 70

Like me you are probably experiencing very strong emotions – shock, grief, anger, numbness but mostly anger.

Shock at the scenes from Gaza that are truly apocalyptic. Shock at the mounting evidence of genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing. Shock that the world appears unable, or unwilling, to stop it.

Grief at the unimaginable suffering of the beautiful people of Gaza. Grief at the countless lives lost, families wiped out, those who will never be found, the trauma, the injured and of course, the children.

And anger, anger at the callous barbarity of Israel’s incessant bombing of Gaza. Anger at the complicity of Western leaders still defending Israel, still providing weapons for Israel, sending naval vessels to defend Israel, or vetoing UN resolutions critical of Israel. Anger at our religious leaders, especially in the Church of England, who refuse to condemn Israel’s genocidal ethnic cleansing or call for an immediate ceasefire, as the Roman Catholic Church has done, presumably for fear of upsetting their cosy relationship with the Zionist Lobby.

What can I say today that will make a difference to the shock, grief and anger you may feel too? Let us consider our Psalm for today – Psalm 70. I’ve broken the Psalm into four:

A Plea for Rescue 

“Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, Lord, to help me.” (Psalm 70:1)

The Psalmist cries out the only one who can save him. There is a strong sense of urgency and desperation. That is where many of us are today. Whether its living with chronic illness, terminal cancer, bereavement, divorce, debt, homelessness, deportation – or in the case of Gaza, an end to this terrifying nightmare. A plea for rescue. 

A Plea for Justice

“May those who want to take my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace. May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!” turn back because of their shame.” (Psalm 70:2-3)

The psalmist is asking God to bring those seeking to take his life to shame, confusion and disgrace. This is how we should pray for the Israeli government, for the military commanders, for our Western political and religious leaders. Whether they are actively taking lives or passively complicit in not condemning genocide, I pray God will bring them to shame, confusion and disgrace. That is what boycotts, divestment and sanctions are intended to do. 

That is why the war crimes investigations must take place. These are agents of God’s justice but they won’t happen without public opinion demanding them of the leaders we have appointed. Notice the psalmist prays that they turn back – that means repent – acknowledge their guilt, desist from their destructive actions and make amends, restitution – which includes the right of return for Palestinian refugees is essential to any lasting peace. I pray for the Israeli government and Western leaders who support them – Lord shame them, confuse them, disgrace them, bring them to repent or remove them.  A plea for rescue. A plea for justice.

A Plea of Rejoicing

“But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, “The Lord is great!” (Psalm 70:4)

Now this verse may surprise you. “rejoice and be glad” even while we long for the Lord’s “saving help”. And not just occasionally but always? Always? What does this indicate? It is a sign of trust – of confidence in the character of God – in the one who can deliver, who will bring justice, if not now, one day soon. 

In whatever we face today – can we say “The Lord is great”?  A plea for rescue, for justice, of rejoicing.

A Plea of Faith 

“But as for me, I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; Lord, do not delay.” (Psalm 70:5)

The Psalmist ends where he began – full circle. A plea for rescue yes, to notice the declaration of faith, “you are my help and deliverer” – not just because the scriptures say so, but because the psalmist has experienced God’s help and deliverance in the past. This psalm, this plea for rescue and justice is also a plea for rejoicing because it is an act of faith, of trust in the character of God, our heavenly father revealed in his son the Lord Jesus.

As you may know, “Allahu Akbar” is an Arabic phrase which translates directly as “Allah is Greater” or the “greatest” but is often mistranslated in the media as “God is great”.  It is also wrong to equate it with Islam just because Muslims recite it in their prayers. Arabic speaking Orthodox Christians do so too. I suggest we all should learn too cite this phrase, based on Psalm 70, today and every day as an expression of our faith. God is greater – greater than whatever we face. Psalm 70 is a plea for rescue, a plea for justice, a plea of rejoicing because it is a plea of Faith. Amen.