Il Spasimo, Jesus carrying the cross, by Raphael, 1516

218. Mount of Olives: The Lord Wept Over Jerusalem

41 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side 44 and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” [Luke 19:41-44, NRSV]

   

  1. View from inside of church by Berthold Werner.
  2. Church Dominus flevit, Jerusalem by Antonio Barluzzi.
  3. Hen and chickens (mosaic) at foot of altar.

Jerusalem, the city of salem, of peace, has known no peace, from long past down to contemporary times. In its turbulent history spanning 3,500 years, Jerusalem has seen so little peace. This ancient city, located on a plateau in the Judean Mountains, is said to have seen more than a hundred major conflicts taking place over it, with rivers of blood having been shed to possess it. It has been destroyed twice, besieged no less than 32 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Many foreign powers had laid hands on it; it was attacked and plundered by the Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Seljuk Turks, Crusaders, and finally the Ottoman Turks. And even after Israel re-acquired Jerusalem in recent times, it is still a terribly violent soil for the Palestinians and the Jews. With blood still being shed in terrorist attacks and suicide bombings, it has even earned the infamous title of ‘the most contested piece of real estate on earth.’ The Old City has been listed as a World Heritage Site since 1981 and is now on the List of World Heritage in Danger. It is considered holy to the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and is subject to intense ongoing political tussle.

During Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, crowds threw their cloaks on the road in front of him and shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” Looking down on the city, Jesus wept over it as he prophesied its future destruction. Within 40 years, in AD 70, Jesus’ prophesy was fulfilled. Roman legions besieged Jerusalem and in six months burnt the Temple and levelled the city.

The little teardrop Church of Dominus Flevit (Latin for “the Lord wept”), halfway down the western slope of the Mount of Olives, recalls the Gospel incident in which Jesus wept over the future fate of Jerusalem.

  • Designed by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi, the teardrop shaped church, with tear phials on the four corners of its dome, recalls Christ’s grief over the city.
  • The picture window overlooking the city offers a panoramic view and makes it easy to imagine the scene as Christ looked down on the city. In the place of today’s Dome of the Rock would have stood the Temple with its gleaming white marble and gold facings, huge bronze doors and colonnaded porticos. Beyond that, we see the grand Hasmonean palace, then serving as the Praetorium, and Herod’s Upper Palace with its three enormous towers. We can also imagine the men, women and children in the streets of Jerusalem, unaware of the fate that was to befall the Holy City.
  • However, the cross and chalice in its arch-shaped design of the window focus not on the Dome of the Rock but on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
  • At the foot of the altar, a mosaic of a hen gathering  her chickens under her wings recalls Christ’s words of desire “to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing” (Luke 13:34).

Reflection:

On his fateful journey to Jerusalem, and before entering it, Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, paused at the Mount of Olives, looked across the Kidron Valley to the “City of David”. As he visually took in the whole city of Jerusalem with its many stately structures in the background and the people inhabiting it, he wept. Overcome with deep sorrow and grief in his heart, tears began to flow from his eyes. He wept over Jerusalem, openly and verbally expressing his emotional lamentation over the city. He prophesied its future destruction. Within 40 years, in AD 70, Jesus’ prophesy was fulfilled. Roman legions besieged Jerusalem and in six months burnt the Temple and levelled the city.

It is a very sad scene for us Christians to imagine. Jerusalem, the Holy City that we have come to visit, was built, we are told, on Abraham’s Mount Moriah and David’s Mount Zion. Its foundations rested upon the Salem of Melchizedek and the Jebus of the Jebusites. It served as the capital of God’s nation during the reign of King David, until it was destroyed by the Babylonians. Rebuilt by a remnant of the Jews under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, it had heard the voice and seen the face of the Son of God, but did not accept him. Jerusalem knows no peace because it does not accept the Prince of Peace. Dear Lord, we hope that one day, as the prophets tell us, Jerusalem will be the capital city of the world and the center of God’s Kingdom on earth. But, we know, not just yet, for on his fateful trip to this troubled city, the city that would crucify him who is Lord and Saviour, as he approached, Jesus wept over the city. He had an unending desire for peace in Jerusalem, but the people were not willing.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus cried for Jerusalem at least three times.

  • As Jesus leaves the Temple area in Jerusalem he is quoted as saying: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”(Matthew 23:37). This saying is also found in Luke 13:34 as Jesus is progressing towards Jerusalem. This idea of protection and tender concern is also found in passages such as Psalms 17:8, 36:7, and 91:4.
  • As he was entering Jerusalem, Jesus lamented over the city (19:42–44, reproduced above).
  • In a speech in Jerusalem just a few days before he was crucified, denouncing the scribes and the Pharisees as recorded in Matthew 23, in the conclusion (vv. 37–39) we read words almost identical to those of his lament in Luke 13.  He was weeping over the tragedy of a lost opportunity. The Israelites that assembled in Jerusalem for the Passover missed the opportunity to be saved from both earthly and eternal destruction. They were visited by their Saviour, but they did not know it. Instead of receiving him, they killed him.

Sounding a warning to Jerusalem, everything which Jesus did was defined as a “visitation from God”. It was not that Jerusalem’s coming destruction was going to be a direct punishment from God; rather, it was simply the consequence of the people’s unwillingness to respond to Jesus’ message of universal love and non-violence. Rome’s intervention had been triggered precisely by the armed revolt led by the Zealots. Israel’s rejection of Jesus, exemplified by the Pharisees’ opposition to his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, was a source of profound sorrow for Jesus. The religious elites would step up their definitive rejection of Jesus during the few days that followed. In the face of such rejection, we raise three questions for our own reflection towards Christian living today.

1st: Why did Jesus weep?

The central idea in Jesus’ lamentation is peace. Persuaded by its excellent location, King David had made this city the capital of Israel ten centuries before Christ. It was located right on the border between the tribal territories of Benjamin and Judah. King Saul, David’s predecessor, was from the tribe of Benjamin, while David himself was from the tribe of Judah. A feeling that Judah had taken over the royal rights of Benjamin had been hanging over everyone’s head for so long. Jerusalem’s location on the border between them would hopefully help to unite the two rival tribes and bring peace and reconciliation between them. So Jesus wept because he sensed that his desire for the peace of Jerusalem would meet with definitive opposition.

  • His sorrow sprang from his sensing that Jerusalem, a city meant for peace, was going to miss its opportunity.
  • During his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, then, Jesus wept in sympathy with the prophets before him who loved the city of Jerusalem and who longed for its peace. He felt the anguish and sorrow of the people who should be blessed with peace in this world and the next.

Today, our Lord and Saviour desires for us to be blessed with the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), the peace that the world cannot give (John 14:27). He wants our hearts to be neither troubled nor afraid. Imagine him weeping with us when we are troubled and bereft of peace. The thought that our Saviour understands our feelings is at once so comforting and yet so heart-breaking as well.

In all those biblical references we gave above, Jesus was weeping because he was not willing that any should perish. The Lord offers salvation for he alone can bring us to the peace of God (Romans 5:1). And yet, that salvation is ours to accept or reject, which brings us to a harsh reality:

  • Human choices play a role in their redemption or destruction. Like the chicks unwilling to be gathered and protected, the mother hen was helpless. The Saviour comes to us, but we must make the decision to receive him. Whether we would or would not make all the difference.
  • As it was true for Jerusalem, so it is true for us personally. A willing heart makes the difference between “peace” (Luke 19:42) and destruction (Luke 19:43–44). If we will decide to turn from sin and self-righteousness in order to trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation, the Bible says that we will be saved!
  • A decision in the Christian heart can secure not only one’s own salvation, but it can lead to the salvation of others. For the willingness of Christians to evangelize and of sinners to repent does make the difference in the matter of who will spend eternity with God and who will suffer forever without him.
2nd: Why Did People Not Recognise the Significance of Jesus?

One reason is the people’s misguided religious fidelity to Israel, which they mistakenly believed required of them to reject Jesus. The truth of the matter was: blinded by the power of the religious and cultural system, the people gave their allegiance to the system rather than to God, mistakenly assuming that the two coincided. They are scarcely aware of the interest-based power to brainwash, let alone to break free from the system’s power.

  • This is something we have over the years found so very difficult to teach. Catholics by and large are so deeply socialized into accepting the official system as representing the voice of God that they would believe everything taught by officers of the Church as being taught by God, and then forgive every wrong by officials of the Church like nothing has happened. They do not, in this regard, put to good use the dictum uttered by Peter and apostles themselves: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Jesus of the Gospels repeatedly called for repentance, which required a change of mindset from the familiar to the uncertain. But, to trigger such a step, only the Spirit of God can break through the hardness of the human heart. In the very nature of things, this is something very hard for people who consider themselves already very religious and holy to do. In order to tune in to the Spirit of God, one has to take a pause, to pursue the inner journey, to listen to our inner restlessness, to become familiar with the deepest heart desires, to be deliberately open always to the gentle breath of the Spirit. Without all this, we can hardly recognise the time of God’s visitation that would secure peace.

3rd: What Does the Lord Want of Us Today?

The Tear Drop Church that marks the spot where the Lord wept over Jerusalem holds an important lesson for the study of Christology: the Suffering Messiah desires peace, and will be steadfastly peaceful and non-violent towards all, despite inhumane violence being done to him. This teaches us that the ultimate model for comprehending how Jesus saved humanity is the model of non-violence, love and voluntary sacrifice. He has shown that the evangelical values of which he preached on one mountain (of the Sermon on the Mount) and lived to the full on another mountain (Mount Calvary) are humanly achievable and this is what he wants to see us do – to preach and live – “in memory of him”. Jesus dearly wants us to embrace the model of peace and non-violence in our daily lives.

Jesus wants more. Today, Jesus continues his offer of peace to the world through his ambassadors. He wants us all to be ambassadors of peace. So Paul spells out his ministry and ours:

  • 17 Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation;[a] the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling[b] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:17-21, NRSV)

Paul teaches us that the initiative in the healing of conflicts and divisions does not begin with us but with God who made us all to be His ambassadors. Reconciliation is therefore a gift, and our participation is in what God is already doing with the gifts God provides. This work of reconciliation is a journey that involves everyone in the community. It is a journey that must be shaped by the incarnation, the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This journey is headed to a new vision, a new reality, a new goal, and that is God’s gift of new creation in Christ. In that new creation, God first through Christ and now through us, Christ”s ambassadors of peace and reconciliation, interrupts the world’s brokenness with signs and foretastes of God’s reign – in what we call the Kingdom of God. There, as Christ has shown in words and in actions, the able and the disabled sit and eat at the same table together. This work towards reconciliation is work for mutual acceptance, and the aim is the creation of a beloved community where opponents become friends.

The world as we know it today is very violent and peace-starved. Like obedient servants of the Word, and with admirable theologically entrepreneurial spirit, many universities across the globe have set up centres for peace studies to promote peace and reconciliation. The urgency of the global situation drives them to mobilise resources – time, talent, treasure, the big three T’s – to research, to gather people for reflection and action, and to work with peace initiatives on the ground. In the perennially war torn continent of Africa, there are also great peace initiatives on the ground. One such initiative is the African Great Lakes Initiative which works to strengthen, support, and promote peace activities at the grassroots level in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Coming from different sectors of society, the people involved are diversely peace practitioners and academics, financiers and bishops. Yet they are drawn together by one common spirit – to be ambassadors for Christ in global peace effort. You can google them and be inspired.

Copyright © Dr. Jeffrey & Angie Goh, February 2019. All rights reserved.

You are most welcome to respond to this post. Email your comments to jeffangiegoh@gmail.com. You can also be dialogue partners in this Ephphatha Coffee-Corner Ministry by sending us questions for discussion.