Most of us are familiar with the story of Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus rides in on a colt or a donkey into the city of Jerusalem just prior to his death. If you’ve ever seen the movie Jesus Christ Superstar you might recall the scene in your head, folks lining the streets waving palms as Jesus and the disciples come through the back gate of the city singing Hosannah. Or the musical Godspell where the sing the iconic classic, “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord…” Yes, we can see and hear the crowd of folks as they welcome this teacher, preacher, holy man into the city. But there is a short passage in the Book of Luke that is often not read on Palm Sunday, or ever, really.
Luke 19:41-44 – “As Jesus 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. 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. 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.”
I find it remarkable that Jesus is expounds on demise of the city as he is headed into the city to meet his own demise. He makes a clear point in the first sentence, that his message to the people was all that was necessary to recognize the things that make for peace. Let that sink in for a minute. Jesus’ message was a message of peace.
Let’s think about what Jesus’ primary focus in the Book of Luke – the beloved community. Jesus emerges among the pious Jews of his day who were steeped in the traditions and ancestry of the Jewish people. But we see Jesus’ presence among the people, mostly those marginalized by the church: women, the less-than-pious, tax collectors, the poor, the sick, the oppressed, and even some Pharisees. What Jesus does is remind all of us that compassion is our highest calling.
Discipleship is a secondary theme of the Book of Luke, connected to the primary theme of the personhood of Jesus and his need/desire to walk among us. Discipleship, though, is not a simple task or part of some check-list, it is a way of life and requires self-reflection, repentance, and a desire to love beyond the bounds of one’s own capability. In the world of discipleship, we are called to make manifest the kingdom of God right here on earth. It is a fundamental necessity to see God’s presence in the world, active and alive in Jesus as our primary example of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.
When Jesus speaks of peace in this open sentence, he is issuing a word of admonishment to those who would call themselves followers of Christ. He is pointing out the unfortunate fact that while they may see themselves as part of God’s kingdom, they are missing the mark because of their desire to keep some out of the kingdom. The exclusive club intentionally disowns the very people Jesus touches on a daily basis. This was not God’s plan for peace.
Jesus makes it clear that because of their need to build barriers along the path to God, all of their safeguards and structures would crumble. His last statement, though, is chilling, “…because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”
There is this moment of realization, every time I read this passage, that most of us would not recognize God if he were standing right in front of us. We think we would, but I fear we would not. In this day and time, anyone talking like Jesus would find themselves locked up in a mental institution and most likely given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Still, we want to believe that we’ll all be embraced by Jesus/God if they were walking among us now, but I’m not so sure.
The life that we are called to live in response to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is grounded in our relationship with God and our relationship to others. We cannot have one without the other. How we treat others, how we love and live in community actually matters to God. When we start or end a conversation with God’s condemnation of others, we have missed the point of God’s kingdom.
Phillip Gulley said it best, “You know that you’ve created God in your own image when God hates all the same people you do.” Gulley, like myself, recognize that setting aside our petty differences is central to our understanding of the true nature of God. We were all created in the image and likeness of God. All of us. When we attack one another, call each other names, or degrade someone because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation, we are essentially saying to God, “You messed up when you created the world and all that is in.”
Where we live and to whom we are born is all a cosmic game of chance. Anyone of us could have been born in India to a Hindu family, or born in Sri Lanka to a Buddhist family, or born in Russia to an Orthodox family, or born in the US to a non-church going family, none of which makes us less the children of God that we were created to be.
The way of peace is simple. We MUST see God in the everyday, ordinary lives of ALL people. We MUST live lives of compassion toward ourselves and others. We MUST hold each other accountable in love. We MUST be the light in the world that shines in the darkness. We MUST.