Readings: Isaiah 7:1-9; Psalm 48; Matthew 11:20-24
A friend returned from a visit to the Holy Land shocked by two things. One was the way in which Christians jostle each other at the holy places. This is at its worst in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where centuries-old feuds between different Christian groups are re-enacted in how they relate to each other in the building even today. It is good to be warned about that beforehand as otherwise it can be quite scandalising. It confirms, if confirmation is needed, that the Holy Sepulchre is not a place in which to look for the presence of Jesus!
The other thing that shocked my friend was how ordinary and how small the Holy Land is. The shock here is interesting for different reasons. The mysteries of redemption and the history of human salvation were enacted in this small and ordinary corner of the world.
One implication of this is that any small and ordinary place might have been the setting for those mysteries and that history. In fact every small and ordinary place has become the setting for those mysteries and that history. Wherever human beings are to be found these mysteries - of creation and grace, sin and redemption - are being enacted and are being enacted each day.
It means also - following today's gospel reading - that we can say 'Woe to you Drogheda! Woe to you Nemi! Woe to you High Wycombe! Woe to you Greenwich, Connecticut!' There is no need to go to any special place to find the mysteries of redemption and the history of salvation. The place in which I find myself is the Holy Land because it is a place where the Word is preached and the sacraments are celebrated. The place in which I find myself is the centre of salvation history because here too the drama of sin and the call to repentance are played out.
The text condemning Chorazin and Bethsaida was first composed by Isaiah to express delight at the fall of a tyrant, an enemy of Israel and of God's people. Jesus applies it to those quaint lakeside towns, those harmless lakeside towns we might say, in which his preaching was ineffective.
So let us not presume one way or the other. Our own ordinary place is as important as any other from the point of view of redemption or damnation. We cannot presume to stand on what has been the case up to now. It is easy to apply to our own situation, then, what Jesus says about Gentiles (not the chosen people) acceping the Word of God in Tyre and Sidon (pagan cities, modern Sodoms and Gomorrahs). Prostitutes and tax-collectors are entering before the ones who think they should be entering first.
It is familiar stuff, strongly put. By all means visit the Holy Land - there are many blessings to be received by doing so. But don't forget that everything you find there is already available where you are. And if you feel that you live in a special place, special from the point of view of holiness or salvation, then think again. At the least your privilege means a more severe judgement.