Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Word for the Day: City

To read the Old Testament prophets is to take the long view. Zephaniah, today’s prophet, lived more than 2,600 years ago. When he says, “Woe to the city,” it’s tempting to think that he is not talking about our city. Zephaniah is talking about seventh-century BC Jerusalem, not Boston or New York, right?

But then you look at what Zephaniah (a/k/a Sophonias) says about his city and you wonder. Has anything changed since the days of King Josais (641–611 BC), when “Z” was shrieking loudly at worshipers of Baal?

The city of Jerusalem is “rebellious” and “polluted” and “tyrannical.” Zephaniah’s city “hears no voice, accepts no correction. In the Lord she has not trusted, to her God she has not drawn near.” That sounds downright familiar.

And we don’t even hear the half of it. Today’s selection from Zephaniah 3 lets the city off the hook by jumping from verse 2 to verses 9–13, with their promise of consolation. Verses 3–8 keep pounding at the city—

Her princes in her midst are roaring lions [substitute politicians for princes];
Her judges are wolves of the night [instead of judges think literary critics and other cultural arbiters];
Her prophets are insolent, treacherous men [let’s substitute the editorial page of any big-city daily here—can you identify?];
Her priests profane what is holy, and do violence to the law [instead of high priests think dime-a-dozen celebrities stripped down and jacked up].

Reading Zephaniah, it’s possible to think we are living in the bad old days. It gives a man faith in the doctrine of original sin. Sinners then, sinners now. Plus ça change . . . 

I do not like cities. Cities scare me, especially for my loved ones. I have one adult child who lives in the city, another in the country. I do not worry so much about the one in the country.

But then we can be with God in the city and far away from Him in the countryside. Zephaniah 3:5 speaks of “the Lord within her [meaning Jerusalem].”

We can be cities ourselves, too, our streets in terrible need of sweeping clean. In his homily this morning, Father Karlo spoke of emptying ourselves for the coming of Christ. There is a city in me that is rebellious, polluted, tyrannical, hears no voice, accepts no correction.

It were best I clean up that city first before worrying about anyone else’s, be it Jerusalem or Boston.

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