John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. Immediately afterward Satan tempts Jesus to misunderstand the meaning of being the savior of all people.
One of these temptations takes place in Jerusalem, the holy city, the one city chosen by Yahweh to point toward Yahweh’s redemption of all cities (Matthew 4:5). So even this chosen city continues to serve Satan, like all cities, as a place of Olympian temptation.
Cities reject even his deeds of power
Jesus pronounces a woe against these cities. This woe means that they have no future but are doomed to destruction.
These cities are doomed as a whole: the gods (especially Vulcan god of technology) to whom they are devoted, the human societies within them dedicating themselves with such devotion to the gods, and the whole material structure used by gods and humans as a monument to themselves and fortress against any interference by Yahweh.
They doom themselves because they reject Jesus despite his deeds of power. They reveal that they are strictly Olympian, with nothing righteous worth saving, by rejecting not only Christ’s words of truth but especially the miracles affirming that truth.
Jesus remains a wanderer
Jesus begins his life as a wanderer, as one rejected by cities, even before his birth. His mother, her pregnancy almost over, is ordered by the Roman state to travel to Bethlehem as part of a census.
It was right, though, that she should give birth to Jesus in Bethlehem. That small otherwise unimportant village was nonetheless the City of David. Centuries before, Yahweh had declared through his prophets that the savior of all people would come from there.
But even the people of that city couldn’t be bothered with Jesus. They had no room for him. His only visitors were three men from far away and a few shepherds from nearby fields.
Herod soon sent men from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to visit Jesus—but only to kill him. Once again he was on the move.
Later, as they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:57-58). In making this statement, Jesus is not complaining. He’s only bringing to our attention that he has trouble fitting in. If we are serious about staying with him, we will too. Cities—gods and humans together—don’t like him and won’t like us either.
Cain broke his relationships with Yahweh, other people, and the rest of creation when he murdered his brother Abel. Rupturing these relationships doomed Cain to a life of wandering. He rebelled against this fate by building the first city.
Jesus rejected Cain’s rejection of Yahweh and other creatures. He refused to make a city his home. He set gently to one side all the advantages that Jerusalem, for example, would have given him: proximity to power, ministry with the marginal, the magic of the city.
(Today we continue our reflections on Jacques Ellul’s The Meaning of the City [Eerdmans, pp. 113-124]. Biblical quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version.)
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