Even the cows repented
The conflicts of Jesus
40 Blogs of Lent: Day 14
20 Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgement for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom than for you.”
There are echos of Jonah here. In the book of Jonah everything happens the opposite of what you would expect. God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh, you would expect a prophet to obey God, but Jonah heads off in the opposite direction to Tarshish. The pagan crew of the ship worship God after throwing Jonah overboard, being eaten by a fish does not kill Jonah, the evil king of Nineveh and all the people of the city repent. Even the cows repent.
In mentioning Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, Jesus is saying that notoriously evil cities would like Nineveh have repented. Repentance was Jesus’ message from the beginning as shown in Matthew 4:17, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” The Galilean towns did not repent, not Chorazin in the hills to the south of Lake Galilee, nor to Bethsaida, meaning house of fishing and birthplace of three of the apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip, to the north of Lake Galilee in the Golan Heights. Jesus is using a figure of speech in comparing Chorazin and Bethsaida with Tyre and Sidon, in rabbinic literature Bethsaida is referred to as Saidan. Pagan cities would have repented, changed their ways and but the Jewish cities did not.
But Jesus id just warming up. The real focus is Capernaum, the town where Jesus based his ministry (Matthew 4:13). Capernaum’s failure to repent is compared unfavourably to the most sinful of cities, the one which God destroyed for its sinfulness, Sodom. Ezekiel said of Sodom:
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.
Even the place where Jesus set up his Galilean ministry did not repent. That is not to belittle those people from these towns who did respond to the message of Jesus, but even when crowds followed him, Jesus and his followers were always a minority. The political leaders never showed more than mild interest in Jesus and were often antagonistic.
But in pronouncing judgement on the Galilean towns Jesus was not condemning them outright. A door is always open and an opportunity to repent is always given. But that is tomorrow’s blog.
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