Well, most likely they are on the top floors. These top floors might be swaying in strong winds, but they are most likely to have nice vistas and a greater degree of privacy and quiet. These apartments are more expensive only because modern tall buildings are equipped with fast and efficient elevators. In New Testament times, Hellenistic apartment buildings (called Insulae) did not have convenient elevators and thus, just like in old tenement houses, rooms in the upper floors were the least desirable and thus cheapest. Unscrupulous landlords and developers neglected maintenance, disobeyed zoning and building codes (believe it or not Hellenistic cities had these norms - they existed in Rome) and overcrowded upper floors. Buildings were top-heavy and prone to collapse. In the Gospel of Luke (the most deeply rooted in Hellenistic culture of all the Gospels) Jesus is said to comment on some similar urban tragedy - a collapse of a building/structure (tower) in Jerusalem with eighteen casualties. And then he says: “unless you repent, you will perish in a similar way.” That is a surprising conclusion, isn’t it? How could repentance possibly prevent the collapse of buildings? Either Jesus was stark raving mad, or he perceived God, whom he called Abba (loving father), as a dark, abusive, vindictive killing monster, or . . .? Or! All our traditional religious as well as cultural understanding of repentance might be quite seriously wrong.
This Sunday we will search for Jesus’ model of repentance, a repentance which originates in the change of heart, a repentance which is deeply spiritual, and yet can keep buildings and infrastructures from collapsing. Come and join Jesus in culture-jamming penitence (liberating it from old-fashioned and tendentious religious prejudices).
For too long, "repentance" and "penitence" have been into individualistic exercise, to keep people down, to make them isolated, submissive and obedient... That was not what Jesus meant! His repentance was action driven, change oriented, collective exercise, in their time to change building codes, in our times opposing injustices of our society for instance by addressing and challenging the city housing and homeless policy.
|Manhattan from our rooftop looking south from West 96th Street - no, we do not have this view from our living room :-(|