And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,
Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day,
the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from
(St. Luke 19. 41, 42)
In reading the lines which I have just rehearsed, most Biblical commentators have interpreted them to be Jesus’ literal prediction and foreknowledge of a future event. So they conclude that Jesus is weeping over an immanent and ominous destruction of Jerusalem, which would come to pass in the year 70 A.D. when the Emperor Titus Flāvius Caesar Vespasiānus Augustus and his trusted second-in-command Tiberius Julius Alexander would sack the city and destroy the Second Temple. Titus reportedly refused to accept the garland of victory saying, there is no merit in vanquishing a people forsaken by their own God. Josephus the Jewish historian says that over one million people were killed and the Roman victory resulted in Diaspora or Exile of the Jewish people, an exodus which was not reversed until the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel in 1949.
But the meaning of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel runs far deeper for the Church whose ancient Fathers chose them for this Sunday. To them the spiritual meaning is always preferred to the literal, since that is what touches the soul and changes heart of man in every generation. However, far from denying and discarding the literal and historical truth of the verses, they insisted rather that what Jesus said and did, in time and space, forms a reality in which we can find ourselves. In reading of a literal and historical event we can learn what Jesus has in it to teach us. And so with the words that we read today, we find the Fathers of the Church reminding us that though Jesus was speaking about the Jewish people and their impending doom, He is speaking to us also, warning us of the evil that will envelope and overturn a faithless and worldly generation.
And so Origen of Alexandria, commenting upon these first few verses, says that Jesus weeps over Jerusalem first to confirm and establish those virtues which He desired should come alive in us. He writes, All of the Beatitudes of which Jesus spoke in the Gospel He confirms by his own example. Just as He had said “blessed are the meek”, He confirms this where He says “learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart. And just as He said “blessed are ye that weep”, He also wept over the city. (Origen: Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: iii, p. 341) St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes this, For Christ who wishes that all men should be saved, had compassion on these. And this would not have been evident to us unless made so by some very human gesture. Tears however are a sign of sorrow. (Ibid) St. Gregory the Great writes that the compassionate Saviour weeps over the ruin of the faithless city, which the city itself did not know was to come.(Ibid) And so three of the Fathers remind us that Christ uses His human nature to reveal and express God’s opposition to evil in Christ’s tears of sorrow to show us that God desires our salvation. Jesus’ tears are shed also so that we too might learn to weep over our own sins. With Jesus we should be found weeping over the contradiction between what the Lord wants for us and what we habitually prefer. In sum, the Fathers call us to weep and mourn because we have preferred our own stagnant and sterile spirituality, being, as we are, more interested in the earthly and worldly good than in the salvation that God brings to us in the visitation of Jesus Christ.
Jesus wept over a faithless and obstinate Jerusalem. Jesus consecrates the gifts of tears in the service of the salvation that He brings. Blessed are they that mourn (St. Matthew 5. 4), He says in another place. And we ask ourselves, what is this all about? Of course, remembering that Jesus is God and Man, we might have trouble disentangling meaning from mystery. If He is indeed God, we know that God does not cry, shed tears, mourn, or express any kind of regret. God in Himself is perfectly the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb’s xiii. 8) Given such, He is pure love, joy, wisdom, beauty and power. Technically speaking, because He neither changes nor alters, He does not react to man’s sinful and contradictory behavior with any of the emotions that characterize human nature.
And yet, mysteriously emanating from the Divine nature, there issues forth to man that perfect love, wisdom, and power whose operation and activity are given to transform the creature. Love interprets and expresses itself through the humanity of Jesus Christ as care, concern, desire, compassion and mercy. From the heart of Jesus Christ tears reveal that the Love of God in time and space is not emotionally apathetic, but passionately zealous and determined that His human creation should be saved. When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive. (Ezekiel 18. 27) Love in the flesh, through the humanity of Jesus Christ, sees and responds to man’s alienation from God and desires to rectify and correct it. With the prophet Ezekiel, man knows and embraces God’s love for him as the Divine desire for his ultimate transformation and salvation. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Ezekiel 36: 26, 27) Love reveals itself through Jesus Christ’s tears as a response to men’s willful alienation from God the Father. Through Jesus’ weeping, Love responds to and comments upon man’s rebellious indifference. On the one hand, man’s pride resentfully kills the Love of God in the flesh. An obstinate heart shall be laden with sorrows; and the wicked man shall heap sin upon sin (Ecclus. iii. 27) On the other hand man’s carelessness ignores and evades stubbornly Love’s visitation. A stubborn heart shall fare evil at the last; and he that loveth danger shall perish therein. (Ibid, 26) Man was made to humbly hear and receive God’s Word in his own flesh. The greater thou art, the more [thou shouldest] humble thyself, and thou shalt find favour before the Lord. (Ibid, 18) The tears of Jesus reveal God’s desire and hope for our salvation in the face of our refusal to seek after it and find it. For He knows perfectly well what we were made to be, and yet what we, to our eternal peril, neglect and ignore. Blessed is he who mourns. (St. Matthew v. 4)
The message for today is that we should learn to weep over our sin so that we can return to God. As we look back on the literal and historical facts of the life of Love in the flesh, there is this challenge. With the Church Fathers let us respond to Jesus’ tears and weeping over us with those of our own. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Let us then pray for tears and mourn over our sins. Let express profound heartfelt regret and sorrow over our obstinate refusal to hear the Word of God in our flesh. Let us shed tears over our willful indifference towards the spiritual transformation that Christ longs to bring into our lives. Let us mourn over the sins we discover in our souls. And from there, let us proceed to righteous indignation – imitating the holy anger that Jesus expresses over the false commerce in the Temple that we read about this morning’s Gospel. God made us to grow and share spiritual gifts, as we read in this morning’s Epistle. And we cannot grow and share spiritual gifts until we have identified and banished the demonic vices and bad habits that inhabit our own inner lives. We cannot hope to be spiritually changed and transformed if we are still carried away by [the] dumb idols (1 Cor. xii. 2) that St. Paul warns against in this morning’s Epistle. So we pray: O my God, cast the unclean spirit out of thy temple; and if he will not go out but by prayer and fasting, let me add such abstinence to my prayers, as my help to starve the fleshly lusts that war against my soul…Holy Lord chase away the birds of prey that would devour thy sacrifice in me; and drive out the unclean beasts that would trample down the plantation of thy Grace in my soul. (B.Jenks: Prayers…p. 224)
Jesus is Love in the flesh. He cares for us. Will we accept this Love today? Will we allow this love to redeem us? Jesus wept over the destruction of Jerusalem because in it He saw the ruination of the human soul, the family, and society. But out of His tears He revealed to us God’s determination to wipe out sin from the creation that was made to be good. Perhaps Jerusalem and her soul must be ruined before she can be rebuilt. Jerusalem is fallen. We are fallen. But, as St. Gregory says, God visits the wicked soul at all times, through his teaching, and He sometimes visits it by means of chastisements, and sometimes through a miracle, that it may learn the truths it did not understand…and moved by sorrow return to Him; or may, overcome by His Kindness, become ashamed of the evil it has done. (Sunday Sermons, iv. 344) Lt us thank God for this and rejoice! O Clap your hands together, all ye peoples: * O sing unto God with the voice of melody. For the Lord is high, and to be feared; * he is the great King upon all the earth. (Ps. xlvii. 1,2), the Psalmist exclaims today. Let us mourn, so that we may rejoice. We mourn, we repent, we turn to God, and he changes us, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye…. (1 Cor. xv. 52) Christ has died, Christ is risen. Christ mourns within us that we may repent. Christ rejoices within us that we may rise up and embrace the gifts of His Holy Spirit. My friends, Christ is with us and for us. Let us let Him have His way within us today that we may rebuild the Jerusalem of our souls, and thereby reveal the city of God’s salvation to others. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons