[forthright] Reputation Versus Reality

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From: "Forthright Magazine" <forthrightmag@...>
Date: Sat, 07 Jul 2007 16:22:23 -0300
Forthright Magazine
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Straight to the Cross

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COLUMN: FIELD NOTES

Reputation Versus Reality
by Michael E. Brooks

   Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you,
   Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which
   were done in you had been done in Tyre and
   Sidon, they would have repented long ago
   in sackcloth and ashes .... And you,
   Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will
   be brought down to Hades; for if the
   mighty works which were done in you had
   been done in Sodom, it would have remained
   until this day.          Matthew 11:21, 23

Places frequently have particular reputations for
culture, beauty, influence or life style. The mere
mention of San Francisco, Los Vegas, New York,
London, Rio de Janeiro, Bangkok, Hong Kong, or
Paris (to name only a few) brings instant
association for good or bad to most who hear.
Other less famous locations have similar
associations for those who have experience there.

Some places cultivate reputations for good,
featuring the beauty and innate value of the
geographic area, historical, artistic or
architectural features, or other positive
contributions. In contrast, other places seem to
delight in unsavory reputations. 

In the ancient world, this last category was
represented by cities such as Sodom, Gomorrah,
Tyre, Sidon, Nineveh, Rome and Corinth. To the
Jewish people in particular each of these cities
was known for its paganism, corruption and
pervasive evil. They had no doubt that God's
judgment against them would be swift and terrible.
In contrast the faithful cities and peaceful
villages of Israel such as Capernaum, Bethsaida,
and Chorazin would surely find favor in the sight
of God.

In the midst of these comfortable assumptions
Jesus proclaimed woe to the inhabitants of these
"righteous" places. Things were not what they
seemed to be. They claimed to be servants of God,
but the truth was that they had rejected him and
the one whom he had sent.

They did this even in spite of great and repeated
miracles testifying to his identity and authority.
Jesus stated that if some of the most wicked
cities of the past had seen these miracles, they
would have repented and been forgiven by God. What
a preposterous idea! What an insult! Capernaum
condemned and Sodom forgiven? How could that be?

Many inhabitants of quiet and pleasant places
today might be surprised at God's realistic
assessment of their status. Things are not always
as they seem. A so-called "Christian" nation may
be anything but. A pagan, wicked city may be that
primarily because of ignorance and lack of
opportunity. Even Nineveh, the ancient capital of
Assyria, repented at Jonah's preaching. 

When I mention travel to Asia, Africa or other
remote (to North Americans) locations, I am
frequently greeted with expressions of alarm or
even distaste.

"Why do you want to go there?"

"Aren't you afraid (of terrorists, crime, disease,
etc.)?

My response is usually, "I have about the same
risks there that I would have in any city in our
country."

The truth is that risks in many exotic places are
far less than in my home territory. The people I
visit are often more honest, more religious and
more receptive than the "righteous" inhabitants of
my native land.

Jesus' point was that it is our willingness to
believe God's word and respond to him that
determines true righteousness. Reputation and
perception is of little value.

The Jewish village that claimed to keep the law
but would not recognize prophecy that was
fulfilled in their presence was less righteous
than the idolatrous city which never knew God but
had limited opportunity to acquire such knowledge.

So today the smug, self-righteous "Bible belt"
town may be much further in heart from God than
the foreign cities still enslaved to idols but
willing to turn to the truth when and if they hear
it.

Let us receive the message brought to us by
Christ, lest we also perish.

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