by Father Mike Stubbs
The Old City of Jerusalem looks incredibly exotic and ancient. A stone wall surrounds it. Merchants hawk their wares in its colorful bazaar.
It helps us to imagine Jerusalem as it was when Jesus walked its streets. But it is not the same. That city was demolished when the Romans squelched the Jewish Revolt in the year 70. The current city was built centuries later on its ruins.
And even the city that Jesus knew was not the original. An earlier city had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. The Jerusalem that Jesus knew had been built on its ruins.
The history of Jerusalem tells a story of repeated instances of destruction and rebirth. Sunday’s first reading, Is 66:10-14c, speaks appropriately to this experience.
The reading refers to the sorrow of the city’s inhabitants at its destruction at the hands of the Babylonians: “All you who were mourning over her!”
Instead, the reading encourages the city’s inhabitants to look to its rebirth: “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her; exult, exult with her.”
The economy will boom, because God “will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.”
The increased income of its inhabitants will lead to their improved health, so that their bodies shall “flourish like the grass.” (In our modern idiom, we would say that they would grow like weeds.)
Following a common conceit, the reading personifies the city of Jerusalem as a woman. Its inhabitants are her children. As such, the reading offers them the wish: “That you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts!”
The destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. and hopes for its rebirth inspired this reading. But subsequent devastations of the city have made its words applicable to following generations as well.
Those words testify to a loving God who cares for us, no matter what might happen. Faith in that God enabled the inhabitants of Jerusalem to look beyond their trials to a better day. Inhabitants of cities other than Jerusalem that have suffered destruction can also relate to the reading’s promises.
Think of cities in war-torn countries. In fact, those who have experienced destruction in many other ways — a wrecked marriage, health destroyed by disease, financial ruin — can similarly find hope in these words.