As He came near and saw the city, He wept over it, 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.” (Luke 19.41-42)
There is no after-party following Palm Sunday’s parade. Jesus dismounts the borrowed donkey and goes to the Temple, has a look around at what’s going on, and returns to Bethany. We know what Jesus finds during His brief stop at the Temple upsets Him, since He goes back on Monday to oust moneychangers and merchants who gouge holiday worshippers with inflated prices. He unites two prophetic texts to condemn their criminality, saying, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” And we have a pretty good idea that Jesus returns the next day intent on shaking things up, in part because He’s in a foul mood. On His way into the city, He spots a fig tree that hasn’t yet blossomed. He’s hungry, but the tree has nothing to offer. So He curses the tree and it shrivels up. This is a side of Jesus the disciples haven’t seen—their first indicator that there’s been a shift in the atmosphere. Everybody’s tensed up.
Before all of this happens, however, Luke captures a poignant moment that helps us recognize the sorrow Jesus feels for Jerusalem. He pauses before entering the city and weeps for its decline. Jerusalem, the proverbial city on the hill, whose world-famous Temple sits atop its highest peak, has lost its vision. According to Isaiah 56, God has ordained Jerusalem’s Temple as a site of justice and inclusion. The chapter begins with a divine command: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for soon My salvation will come, and My deliverance be revealed.” (v1) The prophet lays out God’s vision for the Temple, describing a place where eunuchs and foreigners who were previously excluded would be welcomed and given places of honor. This is where we find the “house of prayer for all peoples” declaration. (v7) Gender and ethnic boundaries will be erased. Peace and unity will prevail in the Temple, which shapes Israel’s social and religious agendas. Jesus is entering Jerusalem to offer its people salvation and deliverance. But even before He steps inside the city, He isn’t hopeful. “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes,” He laments.
His reference to blindness invokes God and Isaiah’s displeasure with how the Temple is being run. In verses 10 and 11 we hear, “Israel’s sentinels are blind, they are all without knowledge; they are all silent dogs that cannot bark; dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber. The dogs have a mighty appetite; they never have enough. The shepherds also have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, to their own gain, one and all.”
Jesus weeps because this is an old, old story. The gulf between the Temple and its people continues to widen. The correctives issued in Isaiah 56 haven’t been obeyed. People are still turned away from worship. The rich get preferential treatment. Preachers and teachers continue to serve up God’s promises, yet they have no vision for what those promises will look like in a “new Jerusalem,”—the place Jesus has spent three years describing as “the kingdom of God.” And here He stands, looking at Jerusalem through tear-swept eyes, the very embodiment of God come to save and deliver Israel from its religious and political oppressors. Their promised Prince of Peace is with them, but they can’t see it.
We can see it, but do we really understand what we’re looking at? The cry from Jesus’s heart mourns the loss of community. God has endowed Jerusalem with power to become a singular place where no one is rejected, where God’s all-inclusive love can reign supreme. Jesus has come to offer this amazing gift to a holy place that has lost touch with what makes it holy. Seeing how many of our own churches reflect Jerusalem’s failure, we too should mourn. But mourning is not enough. We should walk into our places of worship with clear eyes for peace. We should recognize where our leaders and communities have failed and we should decry their resistance to change. God is calling for a house of prayer for all peoples. The redundant embrace—all peoples—stresses the expectation of uncompromised inclusion.
Any church or faith community that compromises God’s expressed vision should be regarded with suspicion. These are blind spots shepherded by people with no understanding. We will not be fed in these pastures. We will not find peace in them, even though they sing and preach in the name of Christ. So why are we there? It behooves every disciple of Christ to seek community among people who have eyes for peace and understand Who Jesus is. The glory of the Temple loses its luster when we realize it’s lost its way. The fancy robes and soaring architecture and showmanship that draw so many inside its walls lose their magic. When churches prefer some above others and deny entry to eunuchs and strangers, the ground they stand on is no longer holy. So weep like Jesus for their blindness. But follow Jesus’s example: declare your displeasure with their error and when they resist you—and they will—walk away. Find a home where people with eyes for peace live out God’s vision in tangibly faithful ways.