The Great City
by: Rev. David Bast
Some years ago I traveled into southern Sudan with some Words of Hope staff and supporters. One of our group was a farmer from northwest Iowa who had a number of feed lots that collectively held 40,000 head of cattle. The tribal peoples of South Sudan measure a man’s wealth by the number of cows he owns, so when I introduced my friend and told them about his herds, they were awestruck. It was as though Bill Gates had come to visit!
The Lord tells Jonah of his compassion for the great city of Nineveh and its huge population—120,000 lost people who didn’t know right from wrong “and also much cattle.” So what’s with the cattle? In a sermon on Jonah 4 Tim Keller suggests that the point is not that God is an animal lover (though no doubt he is). The point is that ancient Ninevites, like tribal Sudanese, measured wealth in livestock. The Lord is suggesting here that he not only cares about the fate of these individuals, he cares about their city and its systems: economic, political, social, and educational.
A community or society is more than the sum of its parts. Just as systemic evil can oppress and overwhelm individuals, so systemic health can spread blessing far beyond individual acts of kindness. The Bible’s vision of the new creation centers on a healthy city—heaven come to earth—where all will flourish before the face of God and the Lamb. Until then we are called to make the cities of man more like the City of God.