Reflection by Fr. Michael J. Nicosia, published on social media May 6, 2021
Psalm 86 begins, “Turn your ear, O Lord, and give answer, for I am poor and needy. Preserve my life, for I am faithful; save the servant who trusts in you,” and “In the day of distress I will call and surely you will answer.” Many of the sacred texts across faith traditions pray in a similar vain.
In the Holy Land it is again a day of distress, and both Israelis and Palestinians raise up such prayers. How might God hear and answer such opposing needs—or will God address a deeper, actual need they share?
I reflect on how such pleas for divine aid, and the celebration of triumph (or at least hope) that typically follows, were probably composed in hindsight by the victors of previous competitions—songs they sang which, intentionally or not, reinforced their supremacy over those considered “other.” Such prayers codify the notion that “us vs. them” is divinely ordained and, with God obviously on “our” side, justify the presumption of right and privilege.
There is no denying that each side of the Middle Eastern conflict (not that there are only two sides) has experienced its own distress, its own existential threats as victims of oppression. Each side can or could in the past claim that they are the poor and the needy deserving of salvation. Surely “God promised of old that he would save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us” (Luke 1:68ff).
But what of the oath sworn to father Abraham, one from whom both sides descend? What is needed is a prophet of the Most High to prepare a way out of their shared distress—the only way: “to give God’s people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.” Sins committed by both sides against sibling and neighbor in their claims of superior need. Sins, too, of those who for centuries have used them as pawns in the service of their own national interests.
“Forgive us, O Lord, for the sins that divide.” If this be our prayer, surely God will answer.