LENT II - C - 16 LUKE 13. 31-35
The Lenten journey is one in which we travel with Jesus to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Today’s gospel tells us that Jesus has not yet arrived, but is near; near enough that some Pharisees came out to warn him not to go forward because Herod plans to kill him. Whether the Pharisees that warn Jesus mean to be friendly or not is not clear; in any case he is not going to move on before his time to please either them or Herod.
Jesus is determined to finish his work and then go voluntarily to His Passion. The threat of death does not deter him from continuing the journey. He knows what lies ahead for him in Jerusalem. He predicts his triumphal entry. He knows he will be rejected by Israel, and he knows the cross awaits him.
How important was Jerusalem to Israel? To Jesus? To God? The Temple was in Jerusalem, the symbol of God’s abiding presence. The Holy City was identified with God’s people, Israel. The people believed that the Holy City would always survive, no matter what.
Even though living under the oppression of Roman rule, Israel believed that God’s blessing would eventually flow from Jerusalem again. The hope was that God would create a new Jerusalem inaugurated by God’s Messiah. God would send His Messiah to draw all nations to the Holy City and recall the faithful remnant from the furthers corners of the empire to the new Jerusalem where peace and prosperity would reign.
Jerusalem, however, was also the focus of God’s judgment. The prophets of old ascribed the sins of the nation and its citizens to the city. Jeremiah saw the city as oppressive. Micah saw its ethical and social sins as arising out of the people’s religious sins. For their warnings for the people to repent and return faithfully to God they suffered rejection, punishment, and even death.
Jesus has a destiny to go to Jerusalem and die. The warning of the Pharisees concerning Herod’s threat cannot interrupt his destiny, nor diminish his lament of the Holy City.When Jesus laments over Jerusalem, he evokes in his listeners a host of images and expectations: Jerusalem as the center of political and religious power, the symbol of God’s people, the sign of the people’s rejection of God word, the focus of God’s judgment, the hope for peace and prosperity.
To all this Jesus preaches judgment. The prophet is going to Jerusalem to pronounce God’s word and to face a prophet’s death. God’s word will be rejected, and God’s Word Incarnate will be killed.
Jerusalem has a long history of rebelling against God. Jesus’ intention, in obedience to his vocation, is to go to Jerusalem, and to take upon himself the full force of the disaster which he is predicting for Israel and the Temple. The one will give himself on behalf of the many.
The fate of Jesus and the fate of Jerusalem are related. Jesus will be rejected just as the ancient prophets were stoned and killed. The rejection of Jesus will doom the city. The Temple will be destroyed by the Romans(AD70) and Judaism will be transformed forever.
Christ’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was a triumphant one, just as he predicted. He spoke God’s prophetic word and he died a prophet’s death as he knew he would. His resurrection, however, ushered in a new Jerusalem so that we now live in a different world.
Those who rejected him then never realized it, nor those who reject him today. For then as now people hold tightly to their “Jerusalem” and defend it fiercely even to the point of denying the truth when it is standing before them.
What is our Jerusalem? What do we believe in so strongly that nothing will ever shake our confidence? What it is we hold so tightly to that it controls every aspect of our lives? Is it self? Power? Wealth? Status? Is it religion? Politics? Where does our security lie? Our trust? Our hope? To what or whom do we identify with?
Lent gives us the opportunity to ask ourselves these questions and to reflect on our answers as we offer our penance to God and seek to renew our faith. To continue the Lenten journey, to follow Jesus, reminds us that we are a sinful and broken people living in a sinful and broken world.
Our world today is one in which we still encounter injustice, rejection, war, and oppression. And yet at the same time we are reminded that we are a redeemed people, living in a redeemed world. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection has brought salvation to all of us, to those who realize it as well as to those who do not, and it marks the new Jerusalem in our midst.
Let us, therefore, avoid setting our minds on earthly things, as St. Paul exhorts the Christians at Philippi, and see ourselves as citizens of the new Jerusalem Christ came to usher in through his life, death, and resurrection; a new Jerusalem where all nations will be drawn to him and the faithful will return with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of God’s Holy Word, Jesus Christ, Our Lord, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns one God, for ever and ever. AMEN+