As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (New International Version)
There are Christians who believe in withdrawing as much from the world as possible, this side of heaven. There are yet others who believe in accommodating to the world, its structures and society. And there are yet others who believe the world and the church are simply two distinct realms which Christians move back and forth within, like doffing one hat and donning another.
For the moment, let’s just leave all that aside. Instead, observe the pathos of Jesus. Christ came to Jerusalem, a city with deep roots in both religion and the world. He stopped and gazed affectionately at the ancient place with a heart full of longing for what she could be, as well as a heart profoundly sad for what she presently is.
And as Jesus stood and looked at the city in all of its religious piety, as well as its worldly pungencies, he wept.
This was not a quiet shedding of a tear. No, the word “wept” means that Jesus openly cried aloud over the city. This is the kind of crying which happens when a person is in the throes of grief and lament. Jesus was expressing great emotional heaves of loud weeping.
The reason Jesus was lamenting with so much feeling was that the city did not recognize they had a gracious visit from God. The Lord looked at the city and saw all the future disaster which was coming. He knew it could be different, and he was completely undone by the city’s inability to see God, right in front of their own face.
That Jesus wept over a city is more than a deep emotional response; it is also a profound theological statement of subversion against the present order of things. Tears and crying are ways of pronouncing that the status quo of human oppression and indifference is not okay – that there is an alternative path, The Way, which leads to peace and life.
Contrary to many contemporary forms of Christian spirituality, theology and tears are not antithetical nor foreign to one another. They are related, and when practiced well, they inform each other in a full-orbed Christianity that is both holistic and holy. We can no more separate the two anymore than we can divide the humanity and divinity of Christ into parts, as if Jesus were some weird schizophrenic God-Man.
A dispassionate follower of Jesus is really no follower, at all.
Now, let’s return to our view of the world and our involvement in it. Taking some cues from our Lord Jesus, the first and foremost posture we are to take toward the worldly city is not separation, accommodation, or dual citizenship – it is, rather, to weep, to grieve and lament, to sit with and feel the immense sadness of a society askew and awry of God.
The longing Jesus had in his heart was to see the city of Jerusalem annexed and incorporated into the kingdom of God. The way of peace, of shalom on this earth, is to bring all things and all the world under the benevolent reign of God. It’s as if there are Twin Cities, like Minneapolis and St. Paul, which exist side-by-side but have different municipal structures.
The kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God exist next to each other. Jesus wanted to bring the earthly kingdom into the peaceful and gracious realm of God’s kingdom. But the people would have nothing to do with it. Both the religious establishment and the secular authorities of the city wanted their own municipal conceptions of how things should go – and they both rejected the Christ who could bring everyone true harmony.
King Jesus is our rightful benevolent ruler. Yet, there are so many who do not, or will not, acknowledge that grace and mercy is among them if they would but only look and see.
Let us lament this world, which is chocked full of both religious and secular people who do not recognize the time of God’s visitation. May we journey with Jesus and follow him in his Passion for this world and all its inhabitants. May we sit at the feet of Jesus and imbibe his deep love for all who are estranged from God.
Blessed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the holy Trinity whom I serve – the world and even sometimes the church is estranged from grace – they have not recognized your gracious coming and presence. I lament such a state of things, and ask you, blessed Spirit, to draw all people to the Savior, Jesus Christ, in whose name I pray. Amen.