Sunday, February 25, 2007

JESUS' PASSION FOR THE CITY

A PERSON OF PASSION. Surely, Jesus wept on more occasions, but only two are recorded in the Scriptures. He weeps over the death of his beloved friend Lazarus (John 11:35). And, on Palm Sunday, he weeps over the city (Luke 19:41). Each of these stories is worthy of singular examination. However, both point to Jesus as a three-dimensional person--one who feels deeply and expresses his feelings transparently. Together, the stories hallmark Jesus as a person of passion, a real human being.

HEARTBROKEN FOR THE CITY. It intrigues me that the Gospels highlight one of Jesus' most passionate moments as looking out over a city. As an urban advocate and pastor, I find this a compelling scene, one that deserves to be unpacked, understood, and engaged. Jesus is not only a passionate person (vs "Jesus meek and mild"), he is passionate about the city. He loves the city. He cares for its people. His heart is breaking over its conditions. He longs for its renewal and vitality. He grieves its impending demise--a result of its near-sighted politics, religious arrogance, and spiritual malaise.

Why is Jesus passionate about the city? Why is he moved to tears at the sight of it? What's behind this erruption of emotion? Let me suggest four reasons:

GOD'S FOCUS IN SALVATION HISTORY. (1) In salvation history, God has made the city a particular focus of concern. From the beginnings of its faith, city was to be the heart of the expression of Israel's covenant living in the shalom of God. Prophets like Isaiah call the people back to covenant to rebuild and restore the city (Isa. 58:9-12) as a place of grace. Jeremiah declared that even in exile, the people should seek the shalom of the city in which they are resident aliens (Jer. 29:4-9). The Bible repeats this focus again and again. God's vision is an urban vision.

SOURCE OF IMPACTS--BAD & GOOD. (2) The priorities and decisions that impact daily living for good or harm are shaped in the city. Even as Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, he laments the misplaced values and bad decisions that are to be made in Jerusalem (Luke 19:42-45, 47-48). On the other hand, good decisions can be made in and by cities, like Ninevah (cf Jonah). The values, decisions, and policies made in a city influence daily life for millions of people. A metropolitan area does things in a large, collective way. If the city is--like Indianapolis--a center of regional and state governance, the impacts for good or harm are magnified, rippling outward into towns, villages, and rural areas.

SACRED SPACE. (3) The city is a sacred space—a place in which God’s presence dwells and through which God’s Word is revealed. Jesus goes to the temple—a sacred place—that has been turned into a mere marketplace—“a den of robbers." But entire cities are sacred places. God's Spirit is at work in myriad ways in a city. God hasn’t left, regardless of how many churches have abandoned the city or retreated its edges. As his core salvific mission intensifies, Jesus moves right into the heart of the city and grapples with fallen principalities and powers that prevent God's shalom from being accessible. The city is no less a holy place because it may be controlled by unholy people and fallen powers; it is to redeem and restore that Messiah comes...and it is to reconcile and renew that Messiah's followers are sent into the city.

LOST IN THE CITY. Jesus is passionate about the city because (4) the people He loves and came to redeem dwell in the city. Jesus weeps for people who are lost--lost in the city. I think this is the paramount reason God is passionate about the city. It’s about people: we who are created in the image of God, who have turned to our own ways, who God yet longs to redeem and restore and through whom God desires to be glorified and accessible for all. I beleive God's care for people is not just a care for their final, eternal destiny. Salvation--as it is described in the pages of the New Testament--is not just about an end game. It is about daily realities; it is about a quality of life--here and now. It is about a way of regarding people, measuring value, making decisions, expressing giftedeness, distributing goods, delivering services, encouraging community, fulfilling purpose, achieving outcomes, and crediting sources.

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