“When he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over
it.” (Luke 19.41)
Can those of you who are adults ever remember your parents crying? When
I was a child, it was always a traumatic thing to see my father or mother,
or for that matter, any adult cry. When it did occur, the first thing that
struck my mind was that there must be something really important and terrible
going on if someone who was normally so stoic, so in control of his emotions,
was so overcome that he cried.
Do you remember the story of Lazarus? Remember that when Jesus arrived
at the place where Lazarus had been buried, he wept. The Jews who stood
by watching were surprised by this show of grief, and said, “Behold, how
he loved him.” (John 11.36) It was obvious to them that Lazarus had been
a special friend and that Jesus truly loved him.
So it is in the case which the Gospel for today puts before us, where
we see Jesus weeping over the city of Jerusalem. This was the city which
Almighty God had instructed David, Jesus’ ancestor according to the flesh,
to found as the capital of his holy nation Israel. It was to Jerusalem
that the Tabernacle, wherein the presence of God
especially dwelt, was taken by David. In this city of peace, Solomon,
David’s son, built the magnificent temple that contained the holy of holies.
It was Jerusalem, the scene of so much of Israel’s history, into which
Jesus rode on the donkey, coming before residents who not long afterwards
were eager to condemn him to a cruel death on the Cross.
But before the procession began, Jesus paused on the top of Mount Olivet
to survey Jerusalem, its buildings gleaming in the sun and its temple clearly
visible. We are told that he wept over the city, saying
Would that even today you knew the things that would make
for peace. But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come
upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround
you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and
your children with you, and they will not leave one stone upon another
in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation.
Jesus wept over his beloved city because it did not know what made for
its peace. Now we must understand what, in the Hebrew way of understanding
things, this word “peace” meant. It was not simply the absence of warfare
or struggle but meant living in a state of happiness or plenty. It was
a positive rather than a negative definition. Remember, for instance, when
God promised to give Abraham a land, and later when Moses and the children
of Israel were returning to that land after their sojourn in Egypt. The
Israelites were promised a “land of plenty” where there is no scarceness,
a land flowing with milk and honey.” That is peace in the Hebrew sense:
having all that is necessary for the living of a good life.
So when we are told that Jesus wept over Jerusalem, we must realize
that he weeps because her residents did not know what made for a good life,
for their peace. They did not know the time of their visitation by the
Son of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Had they recognized him as their
Saviour, had they received him as their Lord and Master, they would have
experienced a peace such as they had never before known. It would have
been like the description of heaven in the Book of Revelation:
Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with
them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them .
. . and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying
or pain anymore. . . (Rev. 21.3-4)
Instead, by killing him upon the Cross, they murdered the one person who
could have given them true and everlasting peace.
Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and just as a child takes the tears of his
parents seriously, so must we take seriously the tears of God Almighty,
for that is who Jesus was: God come down to earth. Nor must the seriousness
with which we regard God’s tears simply lead to a condemnation of those
who were immediately responsible for Jesus’ death. We must take our Lord’s
tears seriously because they were also for us.
The tears are for us because we are part of a city, not an earthly city,
but God’s city, the Church. Speaking of the Church of Christ, St. Peter
says in his first epistle: “. . . you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, God’s own people. . . Once you were no people; but now you
are God’s people,...” (1 Peter 2.9-10) You are part of the new Jerusalem,
a vision of which St. John shares with us in his Revelation, that city
“set on a hill, that cannot be hid,” (Matthew 5.14) and whose lights are
meant to shine to the ends of the earth, to the glory of God the Father.
Each one of us who has been baptized is a citizen of that city, and from
his heavenly throne our King watches over us.
Now, this King of ours draws near to us, hour by hour, just as he drew
near to the earthly Jerusalem. He knows by his observations whether or
not we are faithful to him. He knows by what we say whether or not we have
accepted him as our Lord and Saviour. He knows whether we heed him as he
comes to us in prayer and worship, through his written Word and in the
sacraments. Are we a source of pride and satisfaction to him, or are we
the cause of fresh tears as he mourns our disobedience and contemplates
our future punishment? Are you, or are you not, a responsible citizen of
the new Jerusalem? Are you, or are you not, taking advantage of those things
which make for your peace, that is to say, your happiness and well being?
What appeals to you more: the transitory pleasure which sin provides, or
the lasting peace that comes from following the Law of God? If we want
to escape the condemnation and destruction of the Day of Judgement, we
should, this very day, make afresh resolve to repent of our sins, as a
people, as a Church, and as individuals.
Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him
while he is near: let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man
his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord and he will have mercy upon
him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah