A Tale of Two Cities

by Catherine McNiel on December 05, 2022

Woe to the city of blood,
    full of lies,
full of plunder,
    never without victims!
The crack of whips,
    the clatter of wheels,
galloping horses
    and jolting chariots!
Charging cavalry,
    flashing swords
    and glittering spears!
Many casualties,
    piles of dead,
bodies without number,
    people stumbling over the corpses.
                                                                                              —Nahum 3:1-3

Yesterday was the second Sunday of Advent, and this second week is traditionally focused on the theme of Peace. In the Bible, peace means something more than quiet inner feelings: it means shalom, or wholeness, a world in which all has been set right. But even lack of conflict doesn’t cover the full meaning. After all, lack of conflict often means powerful evil doers are working uncontested. Peace and shalom mean that everyone has enough, that no one is overpowering and no one is vulnerable, that together we are whole.

This shalom is God’s kingdom, and it is coming to reign here on earth, through Jesus. Those of us who choose to follow Jesus are tasked with working to that end.

But there is so far still to go.

In today’s reading we have a tale of two cities. In Nahum, the evil city of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. Their preference for oppression over justice was world-famous, and for power-seeking violence over the good of all—as is the case with empires, then and now. Through the prophet God speaks harsh words against their cruelty.

In Luke, we find Jesus approaching another city—Jerusalem, the Holy City. Surely this place, where God Himself dwells with the people, will receive a different verdict from the Lord?

But no. Read along as Jesus approaches:

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:41-43)

Friend, I wonder if Jesus weeps over us, too. Yes, we are God’s own people—but so were the people of Jerusalem. Even the Assyrians were deeply loved and cared for by God (as we learn in Jonah). But in both cases, they did not seek peace, shalom, could not even comprehend what this looked like.

Today, we are God’s people and living in as close to an empire as our modern world has. How are we seeking shalom in our cities?

Questions for reflection and discussion: What strikes you in these two chapters? What is notable in Jesus’ tears? How can you (and your Christian community) seek peace and wholeness not only for yourselves but for your entire community, as God asks?

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