He Wept Over It

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As Jesus approached, he saw the city. He wept over it. He said, “If you—even you—had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”

Luke 19: 41-3

 

The scripture scholar Luke Timothy Johnson in his commentary on these verses from Luke’s Gospel (The Gospel of Luke, p. 230) notes that this passage alludes to the earlier parable concerning the king who, realizing that the approaching enemy has vastly more resources than he does, sends out a delegation to “ask for the things leading to peace” (Luke 14:32). In the passage for today, Jesus approaches Jerusalem and weeps over the city because the people do not recognize the gift and meaning of his visitation and, therefore, do not “ask for the things leading to peace.”

At the heart of the gospel message lies the basic truth that the gift of Jesus only comes to those who recognize their need for it. If we are alright just as we are or still feel able to “handle” things on our own, then Jesus and the visitation of God that he is are superfluous. With all due respect to our cultural interpretation of Ralph Waldo Emerson, there are limits to “self-reliance.”

As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he weeps. As “God with us” Jesus teaches us something about the very nature of God. Because we refuse and fail to weep, God weeps “over” us. From the very beginning, God desired to give us freely all that we wanted and needed. We preferred, however, to be in control and to take for ourselves what we wanted and thought we needed. We insist that we have the power in our functional dimension to make peace, to make everything beautiful. Despite all the witness to the contrary, the selfishness and greed that insinuates itself in our lives, the violence and hurt we wittingly and unwittingly inflict on others, and the distortions of our biases and prejudices, we fail to weep.

The tradition has a long and storied appreciation of “the gift of tears.” “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” In the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence there is the brilliant and at the same time painful statue of The Magdalene by Donatello. To stand before this extraordinary work is to encounter the very image of physical and spiritual repentance and sorrow. Donatello has at once communicated the poverty and brokenness of the sinful human spirit and the light and grace that emerges as a result of our recognition and appropriation of that sinfulness. To be really human is to know, and thus manifest, who we are when everything we have laid claim to has fallen away.

Hope and joy are not the same things as our typical and natural optimism. Deep joy comes to us when we have been stripped of our illusions of dominance and control. The current election season in the United States has introduced many of us, in our somewhat adolescent American culture, to the experience of fear that most of the world’s population lives with continually. The fear is manifesting largely as anger, mostly toward each other. Anger, however, is often a “cover” for sadness. There is the sadness of those who feel hopelessly discriminated against. There is the sadness of those who feel as if the “country” that their forebears were so proud of has been taken away from them. There is the sadness of those whose homes and families are threatened. Those who are not sad, however, are those who have held or are ascending to power. The illusion of one’s own power prevents one from knowing the sadness. This was true in the time of Jesus, who came to save those who knew they were lost rather than the powers that be who had no space for Jesus in their inflated and illusory sense of self. It is equally true in our own time. Those in or seeking power make promises they have not and will not fulfill, because they cannot. We cannot serve the suffering of others unless there is space in our heart for their suffering, a space created by the self-emptying of our illusions and pretenses.

We human beings are a small part of a much larger creation. Yet, largely in the lifetime of those of us who are older, we have laid waste to our planet in pursuit of our own personal, social, economic, and military security and power. We have acted as if we required and needed far too many of the world’s resources than are apportioned for us, and others have paid the price. Yesterday our Brother Patrick in DRC Congo sent an email in which he described the effects of climate change in his country.

Greetings from Kipushi where we are still waiting for the rain. It is dry and hot nowadays. This situation is making us understand the effects of climate change and global warming. As a child in elementary school, I learned that rain starts, in Lubumbashi, in October and goes to April-May. Now we are in mid-November and there is no rain. This will make the situation very difficult for the cultivators. Probably when the rain will start it will be mostly heavy rain which is not good for growing of the food.

As always, the worst effects of human greed and selfishness, in this case human-created climate change, will be visited upon the poorest people on the earth. The truth is that in our search for greater autonomy, prosperity, and power we have brought this crisis on our earth and on each other. Jesus continues to weep over us. Perhaps we must first learn to weep over what we have done and what we have failed to do if we are to discover our deeper spiritual and transcendent potency to know “on this day the things that make for peace.”

“Laudato SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”. 

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. 

Pope Francis, Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home, 1-2

 

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