Jerusalem: Re-shaping Space’ (Psalm 48)

 ‘Jerusalem: the face visible yet hidden, the sap and blood of all that makes us live or renounce life.  The spark flashing in the darkness, the murmur of rustling through shouts of happiness and joy.  A name, a secret.  For the exiled, a prayer.  For all others, a promise. Jerusalem: seventeen times destroyed yet never erased.  The symbol of survival.  Jerusalem: the city which miraculously transforms [persons] into pilgrims; no one can enter it and go away unchanged.’       [Eli Wiesel]

The psalmist calls Jerusalem ‘His holy mountain,  a beautiful summit, the joy of the whole world.’    Far to the north, however, on the boundary of Syria and Turkey lay Mount Zaphon, twice as high as Mount Zion.  It was the place where the Caananites located the home of their supreme god, Baal. But says the psalmist, I’ll tell you where the real mountain home of God is; it’s little Mount Zion.  It is lofty and it is beautiful only because it is ‘the city of the great king’.

How typical of God to go for an insignificant little mountain in an insignificant location (Israel); an insignificant little boy for a king (David); and an insignificant little village (Nazareth) for another King to arise.  They become significant because of God’s acitivity!

Jerusalem is God’s place, thus it serves as a witness to God’s character.  What the psalm celebrates is:

God’s greatness – v. 1;
God’s protection – v.3;
God’s steadfast love, righteousness and justice – v.9-11;
God’s enduring presence – v.13-14.

But, eventually Jerusalem does fall; the original Temple built by Solomon is destroyed. Lamentations 2 pictures passersby mocking:

15 All who pass along the way
   clap their hands at you;
they hiss and wag their heads
   at daughter Jerusalem;
‘Is this the city that was called
   the perfection of beauty,
   the joy of all the earth?’

In Jesus day, pilgrims approaching Jerusalem would have seen the city on a hill and especially the Temple, Herod the Great had built, its white marble gleaming from the hill in the sunlight.  Many Jews felt great pride and reverence in coming for Passover.  But, like Jesus, many Jews also had an ambiguous relationship with the Temple and its institutions.  Jesus, some Pharisees, and Zealots, along with the Qumran community fostered suspicion and even active dislike for the Temple and how it served as an institution to favour the wealthy and powerful.

We also remember how Jesus, coming into Jerusalem wept over it (Luke 19.41-44).  And while early Christian Jewish disciples continued worship there (see Acts 3), others, notably Stephen criticized what it stood for (see Acts 7).

‘If such veneration of Jerusalem sounds strange, we need only consider the scandal of particularity that lies at the heart of Christianity.  For Christians, a particular event in time – the crucifixion – at a particular place – Golgotha – becomes the central event of history.  The execution of what appears to be an ordinary criminal is for Christians the focal point of all space and time.  What Psalm 48 and Eli Wiesel say about Jerusalem is what Christians profess about Jesus: No one can see him and go away unchanged.’    [Clinton McCann]

Gospel writers also suggest that Jesus has replaced the Temple, that he is the new revelation of God.  Of course, the Jewish and Christian proclamation is not escapism.  They knew, as we know, that we live in a time and space that is fragile and troubled, sometimes terrifying.  Yet in the midst of it all we proclaim a new reality: God rules the world!  What’s more, we claim to live by that reality.  For Christians the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus have reshaped the world, reshaped our time and space into a new reality.’     

14 “This is God,
    our God, forever and always!
    He is the one who will lead us
    even to the very end.”   

*For a history of Jerusalem, I recommend Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Jerusalem: A Biography.  As the jacket blurb proclaims:  ‘This is the wider history of the Holy City from before King David captured it to the time of Donald Trump.

Jerusalem is the story of three faiths, the supposed sight of Judgment Day and a place of current controversy.  How this happened, is Montefiore’s story.’