Woe to the city
On the other hand, sometimes the applicability of a passage hits you in the face like a brick.
to her that is filthy and polluted,
to the oppressing city!
She obeyed not the voice;
she received not correction;
she trusted not in the LORD;
she drew not near to her God.
The opening words of today’s first reading (Zephaniah 3:1-2,9-13) speak sharply not only against ancient Jerusalem, but also against the modern civilization in which we dwell today: a civilization of physical and moral pollution, a culture of disobedience and distrust, a people alienated from God and from their innermost selves.
Zephaniah goes on to denounce those who are powerful in the earthly city, then and now.
Her princes within her are roaring lions;
He denounces judges, then and now.
Her judges are evening wolves;
they gnaw not the bones till the morrow.
He denounces the opinion makers, then and now.
Her prophets are light and treacherous persons:
He denounces those who should have been closest to God and most obedient to his law.
Her priests have polluted the sanctuary,
they have done violence to the law.
It is easy to hear this last part and think of Catholic priests or other ministers who have committed terrible crimes, of disastrous efforts to improve community worship, or of theologians who twist Scripture to let people do whatever they want.
However, it is also important not to let these obvious connections “out there” blind us to the applicability of this prophecy within ourselves: how we may have polluted ourselves as temples of the Holy Spirit, how we have may have grown somehow indifferent in our personal worship, or how we may rationalize doing what is bad and shirking what is good.
Woe to the city
Woe to us
Yet, the prophecy of Zephaniah is not a prophecy of condemnation only, but also of hope.
I will also leave in the midst of thee
an afflicted and poor people,
and they shall trust in the name of the LORD.
No, the world may not always be a good place and terrible things may be going on, but the Lord calls us to be his own, to be his people and to find comfort and strength in him even when we are afflicted and poor.
Likewise, no matter how much we might have let ourselves go, no matter how far we may have gone down the road of degradation, the Lord has left within us at least a remnant of his grace calling us back to him: calling us to repent, to find forgiveness and mercy, and to trust in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.