And when Jesus 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)
Many commentators, reading the lines which I have just rehearsed, form their interpretations of them based upon the literal reading of the Biblical text. So, they conclude that Jesus is weeping over an immanent and future destruction of Jerusalem, which came in the year 70 A.D. when Tiberius Julius Alexander sieged and sacked the city at the behest of the Roman Emperor Titus Flavius Caesar Vespasianus Augustus, destroying the Second Temple. Titus reportedly refused to accept the wreath of victory saying, there is no merit in vanquishing a people forsaken by their own God. The history of the sack of Jerusalem resulted in a diaspora or exile for the Jewish people which was not reversed until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1949.
But the meaning runs far deeper for the Church Fathers who chose the readings that we use today. To them the spiritual meaning is always the preferred, for this is what moves our spiritual lives, here and now. 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, is given to us as an illustration for our spiritual nourishment and growth. In the words that we read today, we find the Fathers of the Church pointing us to a deeper apprehension of their use for our spiritual pilgrimage. We read that Jesus…wept, and thus, today, we must find significance in His tears.
Origen of Alexandria, the great 2nd Century Church Father, 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 they that mourn’, 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 the Son of God made Man reveals and expresses God’s love and desire for all men’s salvation. As Man, God’s own Son urges us to shed tears, to mourn, and to weep over sin -our sins and the sins of others. This is how we must respond to our failure to embrace and cherish God’s love for us and His desire that we should wage war on our sins so that His virtue might come alive in our hearts and souls. In sum, the Fathers call us to consider our own salvation and how we failed too often to make a better use of the gifts that He gives to us for the sake of our ultimate joy and felicity in Heaven with Him.
Jesus in His own day wept over a faithless and hard-hearted Jerusalem. Jesus then blesses the virtue of tears. Blessed are they that mourn. (St. Matthew 5. 4) 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 Himself is perfectly the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb’s xiii. 8) Given such, He is pure Love, Joy, Felicity, and Wisdom. Technically speaking, because God, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (St. James: I, 16), it seems quite strange that God’s own Son weeps and mourns over Jerusalem.
And yet, mysteriously emanating from Jesus’ heart, there issues forth in the Son of Man a translation of God the Father’s Love that we can understand and cherish. Tears reveal a contradiction. What mother and father have not shed tears when their children fall or fail? What parent does not mourn when his son or daughter’s life contradicts the expectation of excellence? Jesus elucidates for us the Love of God the Father in the face of our willful and stubborn continuance in sin. His tears reveal that God the Father is not apathetic and uncaring but passionately desires that we might turn from our sin and return to Him. 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) God’s Love made Flesh, Jesus Christ, reveals to us a Loving Father who yearns and longs for us to embrace His goodness and excellence! Through Jesus’ tears, Love responds to man’s rebellious spirit and mourns over what man chooses in place of God’s Love. Jesus knows that an obstinate heart shall be laden with sorrows; and the wicked man shall heap sin upon sin (Ecclus. iii. 27) Jesus feels our rejection of God’s Love. Jesus feels also how we stubbornly ignore and neglect the Love that He brings to us. A stubborn heart shall fare evil at the last; and he that loveth danger shall perish therein. (Ibid, 26) Jesus desires that we might take his tears as a trigger and catalyst for realizing and receiving God’s Love for us. With the prophet Ezekiel, Jesus knows that with repentance and tears, we can turn back to God. 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) The tears of Jesus reflect and reveal God’s desire and passion for our salvation. Jesus weeps because He knows what we are bringing upon ourselves and He knows what we are losing by forsaking God’s Love. Blessed are they that mourn. (St. Matthew v. 4), Jesus insists.
The Love of God the Father is alive in the heart of Jesus Christ. Today, we experience that Love as what always mourns over our separation from Him. With the Church Fathers, we are challenged to see how our sin moves Jesus to tears. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Let us then pray for tears and true mourning over our sins. Let us mourn over our obstinate refusal to experience the Love of God revealed in the tears of Jesus. Let us shed tears over our careless neglect and indifference to God’s Love. Let us mourn over our unfaithfulness.
But let us do more. True Love weeps over sin and then turns on it with righteous indignation. No sooner do we read that Jesus…wept than we read that He went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought; saying unto them, It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. (St. Luke xix. 45, 46) If we appreciate Jesus’ tears, we must also know that, through Him, God expresses His Love in wrath against our sin. From our mourning let us proceed to righteous indignation. But rather than directing it against the outside world around us, or even against corruption and cowardice in the churches, let us direct our righteous wrath against ourselves, declaring veritable war on the demons and spiritual powers that so easily entice, distract, and draw us from Jesus’ visitation. Let tears and righteous indignation combine to destroy anything that separates us from the Love of God in Jesus Christ. God made us to grow and share His spiritual gifts, as we read in this morning’s Epistle. And this cannot happen until we have identified and conquered the demonic vices that inhabit our own souls. We cannot hope to be spiritually changed if we are still carried away by dumb idols (1 Cor. xii. 2) as St. Paul warns us today. God intends for the Holy Spirit of His Love to come alive in us and drive away all false gods from our lives.
Jesus is the Love of God 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. But His tears did not stop Him from saving us. Out of the rubble of man’s sin He would raise up sons and daughters to God. Perhaps Jerusalem, and by interpretation, the soul, must be ruined and brought to death before it can find new life. 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) 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. God is gone up with a merry noise, * and the Lord with the sound of the trump. (Ps. clvii. 5) Christ weeps over us that we may repent. Christ reveals God’s wrath against all sin and declares war on our sin so that He might finally conquer it on His Cross. With the renewed Love of His Resurrection, He longs for us to rise up and embrace the gifts of His Holy Spirit. Christ, the Love of God, 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.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons