Commentary on Lam 2:2, 10-14, 18-19
“The Book of Lamentations contains five poems of sorrow over the destroyed Jerusalem. Written probably by an eyewitness, these words express a poignant grief that the chants of Tenebrae [in Holy Week] put to music.” (Vatican II Missal)
Today’s reading is from the Book of Lamentations. We have come to the end of our readings about the history of the Kings, contained in the two books of Samuel, the two books of Kings and the books of Chronicles. We began with Saul and finished with Zedekiah, a puppet king installed by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar.
Our reading today is taken from chapter 2 which speaks of the Lord’s anger against Zion, that is, Jerusalem. In this chapter the author describes the wretched fate of kings, priests, prophets, elders, children and then, addressing Zion, he reminds her how the false prophets have lied, and urges her to bewail her fate before God.
The passage reflects the bitterness and suffering of the people in Jerusalem undergoing the effects of a terrible siege. The buildings of the city have all been torn down. The king and his family have been humiliated and take into exile. The men of the city, in penitential sackcloth and ashes, sit in silent misery on the ground. The women are bowed down to the ground.
The author, perhaps an eyewitness, is overcome with bitterness as he sees children and babies die of starvation. Piteously they ask their mothers for food. But there is none. Eventually they die in their helpless mothers’ arms.
There are harsh words for false prophets, the propagandists of their day. They denied the reality with idealistic and misleading or specious visions, instead of pointing to the real cause of the people’s sufferings – their infidelity to their God, to the true and the good. Jeremiah frequently denounces false prophets. The word ‘misleading, specious’ in the Hebrew comes from the same root as that underlying the word ‘banish’ in Jeremiah 27:10,15. In other words, the lies of false prophets “mislead” the people and thus lead to “banishment” by the Lord – so they are “banishing” in their effect.
“Cry out to the Lord, O daughter of Zion”, a personification of Jerusalem and its inhabitants. The people indeed have much to weep for, both for their present miseries and the reason for them. Their only remedy is to turn to their God in prayer. “Rise up, shrill in the night, at the beginning of every watch.” There were three watches in every night so the whole night could be spent profitably in prayer.
Let them pour out their hearts like water. That is, let them pour out their hearts in prayer and petition. Let them lift up their hands in supplication especially for the lives of their little ones, the victims of their parents’ wrongdoing.
It is a sober reflection that there are still so many places and times in our contemporary and supposedly technologically ‘sophisticated’ world where people are in similar and even worse circumstances, where children walk around naked and in a daze, so long deprived of food that they do not even know they are hungry.
And the causes are still the same: the sins of people, the sins of greed and neglect and a failure to see each other as brothers and sisters and to accept responsibility for them. Cain’s question is still being cynically asked: “Am I my brother’s (and sister’s) keeper?”