December 2, 2014 - Urban Decay
These weeks, between holidays, are usually a time of optimistic nostalgia, loving longing for the way things used to be. Sometimes, however, we get a sour sense that everything has gone wrong.
In this text, the prophet forms a complaint about the city of Jerusalem. He describes exploitation and degradation in every corner of the city. The supply chain is unreliable; muddy metal and watered down wine. In a place where neighbors used to help each other, the vulnerable are now conspicuous and inconvenient. Those with power are corrupt, even violent. This is a city which has been forced into submission and abused. The city has become a prostitute.
This didn’t come as news to anyone. Like most of us, the residents of Jerusalem could name their faults. The inhabitants knew how to get by. They used their judgment, bypassed the cheap vendors, and avoided the seedy side of town.
God’s promise to the city unfolds like a campaign promise. This place is going to see the strong arm of justice. The acid burn of lye will bleach away their sins. These are the kinds of promises which make the rich take comfort. Their property will be protected and the rabble will be subdued. However, the promise that unfolds of is a surprising one because restoring justice does not protect the rich, but calls them to account.
This is an indictment of the behavior of the powerful. It’s not the poor who are bearing the brunt of God’s justice, but change comes from addressing the corruption at the top of the chain of power, with the strong being the tinder that lights the whole mess on fire.
When the safe desire reform to make them even safer, they are missing the point of God’s justice. This season is not about sappy nostalgia, but about radical love, love that enters even into desperate city centers. Celebration of the incarnation is a time to enter into the suffering of others and not sit in self-righteous indignation.
It is at this time that I have to realize that I’m the one with the power to avoid danger, avoid risk and avoid contamination. And I have learned to be ashamed of my white picket privilege when I realize how it compares to my neighbors experience. I want to do better.
Loving God, I have been taught that I am precious in your sight. Remind me in these days that the lives of others are just as precious. May each life become as precious in my sight as they are in your sight. Amen