13 “If my people would only listen to me,
if Israel would only follow my ways,
14 how quickly I would subdue their enemies
and turn my hand against their foes!
15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him,
and their punishment would last forever.
16 But you would be fed with the finest of wheat;
with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)
This Psalm has so many parallels to todays’ realities, it’s uncanny. First, it takes place at a festival, most likely the Feast of the Tabernacles. Like Thanksgiving, the Feast of the Tabernacles (also called Sukkot) occurs in Autumn, during the harvest-time. It also involves a lot of food, celebrating, and getting together.
Second, many of the words uttered by the “unknown voice” in this Psalm could be uttered from any epidemiologist who warned about the pandemic, if you take out the God language. For example, vv. 13 and 14 would sound something like this: “If only the people would listen, if they would only follow directives. How quickly we could subdue this virus! How quickly we could prove naysayers wrong!”
Finally, and most importantly, the warning against false gods in vv. 8-9. “Hear me, my people, and I will warn you—if you would only listen to me, Israel! You shall have no foreign god among you; you shall not worship any god other than me.” The idea of foreign gods has been on my mind a lot as I listen to travel and infection rate predictions for the holiday weekend. No one (that I know of) is still praying to Molech or Baal, but other “foreign gods,” gods that take us away from the one true God of love, have become much more insidious. How much do we follow Selfishness, Greed, Exceptionalism, and Exclusion? These have become our gods.
Collectively, we allow Selfishness to govern us when we decide to not take precautions during Covid, because it would inconvenience us. Collectively, we allow Greed to govern us when we hoard PPE, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. Collectively, we let Exceptionalism govern us when we think, “but it won’t happen to me.” Collectively, we allow Exclusion to govern us when we refuse to share information, such as vaccine research, and resources, such as more liberal PTO or stimulus checks that mean something. Selfishness, Greed, and all the rest do not have one single altar we can destroy, one high place we can decry, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful, and in following them we have fallen away from God.
I wrote a few weeks ago about our own Thanksgiving’s continually racist traditions, so I’m not going to rehash that right now. Today, all I want to do is urge you, beg you, really, to be safe and prudent this holiday season. I know it’s hard. It is so, so hard. And I’m not trying to shame the people who have to support their family, send their kids to daycare in order to do so, or go on essential travel. But so much of what I see happening out there isn’t that. To make it worse, it isn’t done carefully. I find it disturbing that, despite infection rates skyrocketing past 150,000 new cases per day, there are still large, unmasked gatherings happening. Take, for example, the Million MAGA March, or Polyface Farm’s 300 person mask-less pop-up event, which in the last paragraph of the event description categorically denies the CDC, accepted contagion theories, and basic protective measures.
So please, remember that we are all children of God. God loves each and every one of us, and therefore we should love each other, too. One of the best ways we can do that right now is by keeping each other safe and healthy. Perhaps you won’t get sick, but in moving across the country you could bring one community’s infection back home to your own, where it will kill someone’s grandmother, someone’s partner, someone’s child. The time for festivals, gatherings, and celebration will come again, but only if we are patient and restrained now.