Living Apart from Zion – Psalm 120
“In my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me.”Psalm 120:1
Take a moment and read Psalm 120.
Astronaut Scott Kelly spent an entire year on the International Space Station. He was a willing exile from his “home planet”. In his memoir entitled, Endurance: A Year in Space, he reflected, “I miss cooking. I miss chopping fresh food, the smell vegetables give up when you first slice into them. I miss the smell of the unwashed skins of fruit, the sight of fresh produce piled high in grocery stores. I miss grocery stores, the shelves of bright colors and the glossy tile floors and the strangers wandering the aisles. I miss people…I miss the sudden chill of wind on my back, the warmth of sun on my face. I miss showers. I miss running water in all its forms: washing my face, washing my hands. I miss sleeping in a bed – the feel of sheets, the heft of a comforter, the welcoming curve of a pillow. I miss the colors of clouds at different times of day and the variety of sunrises and sunsets on Earth.” He missed being home, being with those whom he loved. Kelly noted that without daily calls home, and long conversations with his family, he would not have been able to endure that long year.
The Psalmist had a similar experience. There were many things that he undoubtedly missed from his home in Jerusalem. But he, like Scott Kelly, could “phone home”. He would do so from his place of prayer. Without his calls to the Lord the Psalmist’s exile would have been intolerable. But for what was the Psalmist longing? What was missing that made the exile in Babylon so difficult? It was Jerusalem herself. Jerusalem, the City of Peace. Our Psalmist missed the peace and tranquility that comes from being in a place where people share the same values and can live peaceably together.
Distressed by lying lips and the quarrelsomeness of men, the Psalmist needs the comforting words of his heavenly Father. And so, he phones home. “In my distress I called to the Lord.” When we find ourselves torn apart from our home, we can become jaded. It is far too easy to slip into the patterns of behavior of those with whom we live. This is why St. Paul trumpets his warning to the Christians in Rome. He says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). And to the Church at Corinth, which was notorious for picking up the practices of their pagan neighbors, Paul warns, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (1 Cor. 15:33).
Our home is the New Jerusalem, but in this present time we live as exiles here in this secular arena. Paul warns us not be become like those with whom we live, but to be different, righteous. We are to go out among the residents of this world and be lights in the darkness. We are called to be with them but not to become like them. Pray for them. Let the love of Christ show through you toward each person with whom you interact each day. The challenge for us, as it was for the Israelites who were in exile in Babylon, is to live in the Lord, though apart from our home with Him. Jesus said that He has not called us out of this world, but that He would keep us from evil one (John 17:15; 15:19). That is why, while we live apart from Zion, we need to phone home daily.