Jesus Weeps over Jerusalem

[Thursday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time. Luke 19:41-44]

As a result of a census that was called then by the Roman conquerors of Palestine, Jesus was born in the Davidic town of Bethlehem in Judea, about 10 km south of Jerusalem.   But as the Gospels tell us, he was raised by Mary and Joseph in Nazareth in Galilee, in the north of Palestine.  He was raised there quietly, where he grew in wisdom age and grace, until his public life.  When his public life of preaching, healing and the proclamation of the Kingdom of his Father began in Galilee, he was not unfamiliar with Jerusalem.  Luke’s Gospel says that his parents brought him “each year” to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover.  They would have also participated in other feasts celebrated in Jerusalem: the feast of the gift of the Torah, the feast of the Tabernacles, or the feast of Atonement.  Despite Jesus’ familiarity with Jerusalem, the Gospel of Luke frames Jesus’ ministry as moving from Galilee gradually towards Jerusalem.  Here Jerusalem is regarded not in its geographical, but in its spiritual light.  It is a journey that sees Jesus moving from Galilee through Samaria to Judea upward to climb the mountain of God, the mountain of God being the special place of encounter between God and man.  This Mount Moriah (cf. 2 Chron 3:1), or Mount Zion (“heaven”), on which Jerusalem was built, was where the Holy Temple of God stood, where for the Jews one’s climbing the holy mountain would bring one to an encounter with God dwelling in the temple in the Holy of Holies.   For Christians it would mean much more.

As Jesus climbed the mountain of God on his final journey to Jerusalem, which precedes our Gospel passage today, he would have recalled rich passages in Isaiah concerning the mountain of God:

The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain
and raised above the hills.
All nations shall stream towards it;
many people shall come and say:
“Come let us climb the Lord’s mountain,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may instruct us in his ways
and we may walk in his paths.”
He shall judge between the nations,
and impose terms on many peoples.
They shall beat their swords into ploughshares
and their spears into pruning hooks;
one nation shall not raise their sword against another,
nor shall they train for war again.  (Is 2:2-4).

Also on Jesus’ mind would have been the promise of
God’s saving activity in him on this holy mountain:
A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse
and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the Lord will rest upon him…

Then the wolf will be the guest of the lamb
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord
as water covers the sea. (Is 11: 1. 6-9)

Jesus would especially have recalled Isaiah’s vision not only of a special feast on this mountain but of man’s ultimate redemption.

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples
a feast of rich food and choice wines,
juicy rich foods and choice wines.
On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples,
the web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.
The Lord will wipe the tears from all faces;
The reproach of his people he will remove
From the whole earth; for the Lord has spoken.  (Is 25: 6-8)

All the promise of Jerusalem – for an end to war, for the peaceful co-existence of belligerent foes, for a final festive meal prepared by God himself that would celebrate the triumph of God’s love over death and sorrow and sin – must have been on Jesus’ mind as Jesus climbed God’s holy mountain, accepting for himself  whatever would be necessary to keep the promise of God for Jerusalem.  It must have been on his mind as he realized how badly the people misunderstood him when they welcomed him entering Jerusalem crying, “Hosannah in the highest!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  They did not understand.  They understood neither his mission nor the cost to him personally of his mission.  They did not understand the cost of their impending rejection of Jesus, crying out hatefully, “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  They did not understand how Jesus remained faithful to them in remaining faithful to God’s saving will, accepting death, even death on the cross.   They did not see the impending destruction of Jerusalem, as Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, according to Luke, would go beyond Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

So having climbed the mountain and entered Jerusalem, Jesus in our Gospel reading for today now looked over Jerusalem.  He wept over it.  Jesus’ weeping was not just a quiet flowing of tears, but a sobbing, expressing almost uncontrolled sorrow, frustration, fear, and perhaps even something of the agony that in Gethsemane would turn sweat into blood.  He loved Jerusalem.  This was the city that represented God’s chosen people.  This was the city where God lived.  This was the city where he’d preached the Kingdom of his Father.  This was where he healed the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda on a Sabbath and stirred up a controversy as to whether it was right to heal on a Sabbath (Jn 5:1-47).  It is the city where the people did not understand “what makes for peace” (42). They were caught hoping for a merely political peace.  He was bringing them more.  He was bringing them God’s compassion for them in their sinfulness.  And reconciliation.  But when he came “they did not recognize the time of [their] visitation” (44b).  As John said, “…he came to his own, but his own people did not accept him” (Jn 1:11).  They were blinded in their showy rituals and constraining interpretations of the law.  He would consequently be lifted up on a cross, killed and raised from the dead.  In his passion and death, the compassion and gifted life of the Father would be manifest.  But Jerusalem and its people would suffer immensely under the Roman Consul Titus in 70 AD.  He would lay siege to Jerusalem, slowly starve its people, then massacre them all.  “For the days are coming.” Jesus decried, “when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Lk 19:42-44).

Having climbed Mt Calvary just outside Jerusalem’s walls to establish God’s Peace with the world, Jesus’ journey would proceed from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.  In fact, his journey goes beyond this earth into the Heavenly Jerusalem.  We walk with him today, resurrected but still carrying his cross.  We weep with him, looking on the suffering of our people because we do not recognize him in our midst, in the least of our sisters and brothers, in the poor, the disenfranchised, the discarded;  we ask the Father “That we may see…” (Lk 18:41), and that through the Paschal mystery he may turn our tears into joy – every time His will is done, His kingdom comes, on earth as in the Heavenly Jerusalem. 

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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