TITLE: Jerusalem, Jerusalem! SCRIPTURE: Luke 13:31-35
Last Sunday, we heard about the temptations that Jesus experienced at the end of his long fast in the wilderness. The devil came up against him once, twice, three times. Each time Jesus rebuffed the tempter. He made it look easy.
Today's Gospel is different. If last Sunday we heard about how Jesus was tempted, then this Sunday we hear about how Jesus is frustrated, how he laments.
Listen to the message he sends to Herod who wants to kill him. "I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside Jerusalem."
Listen to what he says to the city, the holy city of his people. "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!"
These are the outcries of a heart that's near to breaking. Jesus was able with cool, calculated responses to fend off the devil's temptations, but here we have something different. He feels to the depths of his being a piercing disappointment over how the prophets of God have been rebuffed by God's people, how they have been assaulted and murdered. He feels a deep anguish that, for all his attentiveness toward God's people, he has met with rejection.
Struggling against the devil's temptations did not make the sort of demands on Jesus that rejection by human beings does. Much more than the devil, we human beings have the power to leave our Savior lamenting. It is, after all, not for the apostasy of fallen angels, but for the sins of his brothers and sisters that he is on the road to his appointment with the cross.
Jerusalem is the place where prophets must be killed, where messengers of God are stoned to death. Jesus addresses Jerusalem, declaring ardently that he would be mother hen to the city's people, protecting them beneath the wings of his compassion.
What is this Jerusalem? It is a city in the Holy Land. It is the spiritual center of God's people Israel. Yet it is also more universal, more immediate than that. Jerusalem is the city that all of us build together. It is the structure of human life. Jerusalem in this sense is built by everyone, regardless of nationality, regardless of religion or lack of religion. All of us build Jerusalem, using the skills and resources God entrusts to us.
All of us help to make that Jerusalem what it will be. The city we build together may bring tears to the eyes of Jesus or it may bring joy. We may organize our city against God, against every divine intention and mandate. We may show ourselves proficient in closing our ears to prophets and murdering them. Or it may be that we organize our city so that its gates stand open to prophets. We may even leave ourselves at the service of every good and holy purpose, so that our city rests on foundations of righteousness.
You and I have that opportunity as we build our Jerusalem. And build it is what we do day after day. We build Jerusalem in our homes. We build Jerusalem in our work places, in our schools, in our churches, in our communities, in our nation, and throughout the earth. And we have no choice: what we build either brings tears to Jesus, or we give him reason to rejoice. We allow him to gather us together, or we struggle and revolt against that divine purpose.
The drama of the Bible and the drama of all history come down to this: we build the city that revolts against God, or we welcome grace and build a city worthy of God's name. So often Jerusalem kills the prophets, murders those sent from God. But the patience of God cannot be fathomed, and again we are given other chances. The cross and resurrection announce that God never gives up on us, though we humans pile high the reasons for God to do exactly that.
Who are the prophets in your life or mine? Pray for the grace to recognize them! For prophets require no certification, they wear no uniform, and some who function in this way remain oblivious to what they are doing. They simply see present reality in the light of God's purpose. Whether by word or action, they announce that the emperor is naked and wisdom lies in what many dismiss as foolishness.
Who then is speaking to you or me the truth, the costly truth, which we hesitate to hear? They are prophets personal to us. They call us to repent, to change our life, and they give us the thorny hope we can do so. Somehow we must welcome these prophets into our personal Jerusalem lest our lives lie desolate.
Who are prophets on a broader stage? Let me mention just one. A man barely in his twenties tells me of his young cousin, a girl three years old. The girl's mother had taken her to the doctor repeatedly, and the diagnosis was always the same: an ear infection. That's an easy diagnosis to give when the family has no insurance. But the mother tires of hearing this week after week, knowing it's something more. Finally, somehow, off to another doctor they go, and that doctor finds a tumor inside the girl's head, advanced enough that whether she will survive or not is anybody's guess
Looking at her cousin's face, I see he is a prophet, telling me by his anguish that a country of enormous wealth without adequate medical coverage for all its people is a Jerusalem that stinks to high heaven.
I can see too that the girl is a prophet, without knowing it, without wanting to be, and that imperiled by a discount diagnosis, she bears too much resemblance to prophets stoned to death for representing uncomfortable truths that people want to avoid. The horror of life-threatening illness is overshadowed by the horror of collective moral failure, for all of us are the Jerusalem that is killing her.
Examples can be multiplied. Jesus weeps over Washington and Baghdad. He weeps over this city as well. Prophets come to us unceasingly and we kill them by our actions, our words, our silence. Everywhere what Jesus wants to do remains the same: to gather us under the wings of his compassion, even as a hen gathers her chicks together. Yet we lack even the sense of baby birds; we prove resistant.
Sooner or later we must declare our citizenship. Do we belong to a Jerusalem that kills the prophets, that rejects a God of mercy and compassion, that sets its savior on a cross, or do we claim our citizenship in another Jerusalem, a city of peace, one that heeds the voices of prophets and repeatedly accepts its own death and resurrection?
The first amounts to living a life of fear. The second amounts to living a life of faith. The choice confronts each one of us, and it confronts us all together.
Pray that we may build the Jerusalem that God requires, not a killing place for those sent to us, but a city of peace whose gates stand open to prophets, whose foundation is righteousness, a city whose life gives praise to God. Amen.