Jesus Wept


READING from the Gospel of Luke Chapter 19

Jesus Weeps over Jerusalem

41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

45 Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; 46 and he said, “It is written,

‘My house shall be a house of prayer’;
but you have made it a den of robbers.”

47 Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

SERMON

We think of Palm Sunday as the joyful celebration of the day that Jesus triumphantly entered the city of Jerusalem to the praise and adoration of the residents. Palm Sunday begins the eight-day period we call Holy Week. Jesus celebrates the Passover Supper with his friends on Thursday. Then in twelve to twenty hours he is dead; betrayed by one of his friends, tried and convicted of blasphemy in a kind of kangaroo court convened probably illegally by the Jewish high and mighty priests and their senior advisors, turned over to the Roman Governor who alone could pronounce a death sentence, beaten and humiliated, and finally executed by crucifixion on the hill of death outside the city walls.

So, what is it about this day that we might find meaningful?

I read a bit from the Gospel of Luke about this day. This is a standard reading of events on Palm Sunday. We remember the shouts and Hosannas and the coats and palm leaves strewn in the road as Jesus rode past. We might remember the way Jesus flew into a rage when he saw the Passover being mocked and desecrated by the merchants in the temple -concerned more with their profits than the good of the people - as they set up their tables to sell poor people the required animals for Passover at exceedingly high prices because they had a captive market. All of which, angered Jesus and he kind of lost his normal calm demeanor. Go figure, right?

All that is part of the story of this day.

Now, I want to take you to a slightly different place with this story. I’m going to tell it again.

As Jesus came near and looked down from the high place across the city of Jerusalem – the city he loved.

“If you, even you, had only recognized the things that make for peace! But you would not – and now they are hidden from your eyes. Soon, the days will come when your enemies will surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will pummel your city and crush you to the ground, you and your children, and they will not leave one stone upon another. This will happen because you do not recognize God in your neighbor and you will not make peace with them.”

He went on with his disciples, wiping the tears from his face. Jesus entered the temple where all kinds of people were making preparations for the Passover observance. Greedy merchants had set up table after table where they cheated poor people and overcharged them for stuff they needed for their Passover. Seeing this abuse of both the temple and the people, Jesus was again overcome with emotion. He overturned the tables and pushed the greedy sellers from the temple courtyard. 

“This is our holy temple and it should be house of prayer, but you have made it into a den of robbers.”

And, Jesus wept.

Two possible interpretations of Jesus on this day.

The common interpretation says that Jesus was frustrated and angry. He shed tears of frustration for the city of Jerusalem. He was bitterly disillusioned and frustrated, maybe even cynical, because the people had stayed so far from God and each other. They had become completely blind to the possibilities of love and peace that were right in front of them. In his moment of demoralizing clarity, he lashed out with a harsh and terrifying prediction about the destruction of Jerusalem and all its inhabitants. He described in horrifying detail the siege and eventual fall of Jerusalem – including the utter destruction of the Jewish Temple – consequences the people would come to endure in the years ahead.

In the alt interpretation of the text, we experience a very different Jesus. Here, Jesus was not frustrated and angry. Rather, Jesus was heart-broken. Seriously heart broken. He was overcome with grief for Jerusalem as he saw that the people had turned away from the path of love and peace. Jesus wept because he knew that peace would not, and could not, come from conflict and violence. The reality of his ministry and all that was yet to be for his people and his land hit him hard. The tears came and he let them fall down his face.

Then, moving with the crowd into the city and into the outer courtyard of the Temple, he was dismayed and utterly undone by the scene that unfolded before his very eyes in the courtyard of the Temple of Jerusalem. Here, in the most revered place, he watched as poor pilgrims to the holy city were cheated and robed of their scarce resources by greedy merchants who cared more about getting a high price for a pair of doves than about their neighbors who were struggling to obtain the required elements of the Passover celebration rituals. The sight infuriated Jesus, but, more making him fly into a rage, it broke his heart. Maybe, he collapsed in a sorrow so deep that he wept as he cast the sellers out of the temple and gathered the poor into his arms.

Jesus was not a military or political leader. He was not a religious priest or scholar. And, he most certainly was not the revolutionary zealot that so many Jews prayed for. They would not see him organize the rebels into a fighting force that could take back Jerusalem from the occupying Roman Army. Jesus would not challenge the Roman authority through a show of physical strength no matter how many protesters he could rally to the cause. It couldn’t work, and he knew it.

He was willing to be their leader, even their king perhaps, if they sought a ruler who would lead them in the ways of righteousness and compassion. He would be their Messiah – the anointed one - to lead the world and thereby save it. But not through violence, only and always through Love.

Jesus was a warrior for the human spirit.[1] He was awake. He was present to the conditions and the people around him. Difficult as the Roman occupation was for the Jews and troubling as the demise of faith and life among his people might have been, Jesus did not reject his people; Jesus did not reject his God; Jesus did not reject his call to be the one who could change the world. Jesus chose to stay. He chose to abide unto the end – whenever that might be.

When Jesus saw the conditions around him he responded with steadiness and love. His world was not a happy place for most people. The Jews, in fact, lived in occupied territory, routinely harassed by Roman soldiers and often robbed of whatever they could manage to gain by gang members and ruffians of every kind. There were refugees from the Roman conquests everywhere. People were homeless and hungry. The Jews were the dominant group among the oppressed and rather than showing compassion for other refugees of war and famine, they showed mostly hatred, disgust, disregard and a general loathing of anyone not like them. Jesus looked out on this world that his father made and he wept.

Did Jesus enter into the last week of his life frustrated and angry or heart broken and loving?

He was heart-broken with a heart broken wide open in love. The week ahead for Jesus was not so great – we know this -and yet he chose to abide; to abide in love and compassion for his people even as he celebrated his last supper on Passover with his friends and disciples and later walked on that same night, he slowly and prayerfully walked into the Garden of Gethsemane and the embrace of his friend, Judas, that ended with the kiss of betrayal. He chose. He chose to persevere and see what Love could do.

When we look out into our world today, what do we see? Our world is not that much different from what Jesus saw when he dropped to his knees, broken-hearted, with tears streaming down his cheeks. He gave all he had to the cause of peace; he gave his message, his example, and ultimately, he gave his life.

What about us? What can we see? What can we do? What will we give to the cause of peace and justice in our world?

Are we able to see the things that make for peace?

Are we able to see that love and compassion are the way to true victory?

Are we able to see that the widow, the orphan, and the refugee are our responsibility and that justice calls us to love them with all that we have?

I think that we are. I think that we are the ones, warriors for the human spirit, who will remain steady and not flee from the challenges that we face. Resisting injustice is our work.

My Dear Spiritual Companions, I make no assertion that our calling is easy or quickly accomplished. It is not. It will require of us all that we can give. Nevertheless, we will abide and we will persevere - - - because we must. We cannot do less than we are capable of doing to ease the pain of our sisters and brothers and the earth herself.

Friends, we can do this hard thing.
We can do this hard thing.
It’s not easy, I know.
But I believe that it’s so, we can do this hard thing.[2]

Hear again the words of Unitarian Universalist Wayne Arnason who fills us with solace and courage:

Take courage friends.
The way is often hard, the path is never clear,
and the stakes are very high.
Take courage.
For deep down, there is another truth:
you are not alone.

Blessed Be. I Love You. Amen.

 

WAVING THE PALMS - A Meditation by David O Rankin

Palm Sunday is found:

whenever we are serving a noble and unpopular cause with selfless devotion, holding to the ideals of truth and justice;

whenever we are seeking to uplift the fallen, to comfort the brokenhearted, to strengthen and encourage the weak and hopeless;

whenever we are working bravely and persistently in the face of abuse and criticism to establish more equitable relations in the world;

whenever we are sacrificing our lives in behalf of what we believe to be the service of love for all humanity.

That is Palm Sunday!

 


[1] Warriors for the Human Spirit are awake human beings who have chosen not to flee. They abide. They serve as beacons of an ancient story that tells of the goodness and generosity and creativity of humanity.

A Path for Warriors for the Human Spirit - Margaret Wheatley
margaretwheatley.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Warriors-ProgramDescription.pdf

[2] “You Can Do This Hard Thing” by Carrie Newcomer on The Beautiful Not Yet, released on September 16, 2016.

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Rev. Margaret A. Beckman

Rev. Margaret A. Beckman

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