The Rev. Melanie McCarley
Our Gospel lesson today is comprised, in part, of a heartbreaking lament by our Savior: Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired….but you were not willing!”
That’s pretty-much the sum of God’s relationship with us, isn’t it. Hearkening back to the halcyon days in Eden to those that led Noah to build his ark, to the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, the days of the prophets, the time of Jesus, and our own day we have, and continue, to fall short of the hopes God has for us. Just this past Tuesday in Ramallah, the West Bank of Jerusalem, Palestinians threw a fire bomb at an Israeli police post at a site revered by both Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem. Likewise, Greek Orthodox churches are secretly selling land out from under unsuspecting tenants who believed they had a lease for life and Israel continues to allow settlers to encroach upon land in the west bank that has long been held by Palestinians. No one is blameless. Not Jews, not Christians nor Muslims. We each have a role to play in the current unrest of a city whose name literally translates as “Heritage of Peace.”
It seems to me that when Jesus says: “How often have I desired…but you were not willing.”, he is expressing both a hope and a lament held in the heart of God. So, it’s worth wondering how often God desires one thing for us, and how unwilling we can be to accept it. Jerusalem is a symbol of this on a large scale—too many people in this holy city don’t want peace, what they want is their own state. Only theirs—no one else’s. But, if we look closely, isn’t this true of ourselves as well?
More and more, we tend to stick with people of like-minded beliefs—be they political or religious. Despite our pretentions of being a world-community, we are, in some ways, becoming more isolated than ever. We listen to news sources who reinforce our beliefs; we communicate almost exclusively via text and e-mail rather than face-to-face. From the places we choose to live, to the schools we attend to the media we allow access into our lives, we can protect ourselves from outside influences we find disturbing or distasteful. And think of what this does—it isolates—and, in some cases, it does less to protect us than it does to make us fearful of people who look, act or believe differently than ourselves.
If you doubt me, just look at what happened to Shahid Shafi, a trauma surgeon in Southlake, Texas, and vice chair of the Republican party in his county. On January 10th of this year, Republicans held a vote on whether to remove Shafi from his position. At heart wasn’t the issue of his competency; it was a result of objections to his appointment because he was Muslim; and the erroneous belief that as a Muslim who attends a mosque he would not uphold the US Constitution. He’s not the only one. Brian Buescher, a US District Court nominee, Roman Catholic and member of the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal order of the Catholic Church, came under fire from some Democrats for being Roman Catholic, and were fearful he would not be able to separate his religious beliefs from his duty to uphold the law of the land—a concern hearkening back to the days of Robert F. Kennedy.
Peace, you see, is costly—and difficult. Whether we’re speaking of the holy city of Jerusalem or of our own country, we cannot help but see how often we say that we are aiming for peace, when in reality, what we are really seeking is power and control.
And this, if you think about it, is the very heart of sin—refusing to live into the desire of God. Failing obedience. Rejecting God, silently or not. And, quite honestly, it’s one of the reasons why Jesus tells us that Jerusalem is the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. Because speaking truth to those in power rarely gets you an invite to the next state dinner. Quite frequently, what it does is land you in a prison cell at best, or, in the case of our Savior, hanging on a cross to die.
This is true in the political realm, certainly. It’s also true within the realm of our workplaces and our families. And it may cause you to wonder where hope might be located in the midst of a heartbreaking biblical passage, and within the wreckage of our own lives.
That hope is found in Jesus. It’s worth considering that when Jesus speaks of the peace of Jerusalem, he is, in effect, speaking not so much to a political situation, as he is to the concept of Jerusalem as the people of God. Jesus is speaking to people, he is speaking to us. And, what’s more, he is offering us peace. He says: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” In other words, In the midst of an uncertain world, in the midst of strife and unrest, Jesus is offering us himself.
I imagine, that as our hearts broke upon hearing the news of the massacre in New Zealand late this past week, that God’s did as well. There is no reason, none at all why these three faiths: Jews, Christians and Muslims cannot live together in peace. We are, after all, each children of Abraham. If Jerusalem is the holy land of Muslims, Christians and Jews, certainly we can see that the horror that played out in Christchurch, New Zealand, is a continuation, of sorts, of the failure to commend the faith and humanity in all people, not simply those of our own country, skin color and religious preference. This attack occurred in New Zealand; but the hatred which spurred the terrorist to take aim at people who were deemed “outsiders”, those perceived to be of a different race, country of origin and religion can just as easily be found in our own country and Jerusalem as well.
During this season of Lent, we are invited to ask ourselves how it is that we are being called to become people of peace? How are we called to be truth-tellers to those in positions of power? How are we called, both within the broad panorama of the world, and on the smaller scale of our work, families, friendships and communities to work for peace? And we must ask ourselves as well—how willing are we to return under the wings of God to a place which offers us true solace of spirit and strength in faith in the midst of the worries and strife of this world. There is indeed hope in this passage—it’s found in the very one whose wings are open to provide us comfort and shelter; and whose arms are outstretched on the cross, open to embrace all who come seeking peace.
I’d like to close with a prayer for peace from the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer. Let us pray:
it is your will to hold both heaven and earth
in a single peace.
Let the design of your great love
shine on the waste of our wraths and sorrows,
and give peace to your Church,
peace among nations,
peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.