O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!Fr. Barnabas Powell
It seems there has been conflict, bloody and otherwise, in the Middle East forever. No matter what is going on, the hatred and the destruction seem to be ever-present. And it is such a tragedy perpetuated by politics, revenge, and a hunger for control.
The fact is we simply cannot read the history of that part of the world and not see the constant struggle embedded in all of the history of that area. Before we succumb to the simple answers that feed bigotry and revenge, we should stop and realize that this external conflict is merely an icon of the internal struggle in each of us. The whole point of the Christian Gospel is to see the desperate need for doing the hard work of inner peace if we have any hope of bringing external peace to troubled places. This is why the shallow slogans and mere appeasement of terror never, and I mean NEVER, work for very long.
But why is it we always default to blame and easy answers? Because we are spiritually blind to the true Love of God that insists we begin building peace by making peace with Him and within ourselves.
Look at our lesson today in Luke 13:31-35:
At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'”
I love this passage. In it, the Lord reveals His true motivation for all of His work.
The passage begins with a surprising event. The Pharisees (yes, those Pharisees) came to warn Jesus that the puppet king of the area under the Roman Empire, King Herod, was out to kill Jesus. These are the same religious groups that ultimately will turn on Christ and demand that Pilate kill Jesus on the cross. Most of the opposition to Jesus’ message and ministry came from these religious groups there in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish homeland of the day. These Pharisees were the “conservative” religious party in Jerusalem. While the Sadducees were more of the intellectual elites who didn’t believe in the miraculous, or the resurrection, or angels. They were the folks who treated being part of Judea as just a racial or cultural identity. And they thought cooperating with the Romans was the best way to hold onto their status and power.
Jesus responds and His words tell us so very much. First, He reveals just what He thought of the so-called “King of the Jews.” He calls Herod “that fox.” Herod may be cunning. Herod may be crafty and sneaky. Herod may be politically savvy enough to have his little throne. But Herod is not the real “King.” Jesus declares that He is the one Who is casting out demons, proving He has authority even over the devil and his demons. It is Jesus that is providing cures for sickness. And He is the One with the real authority. Herod can only exercise power over the People of God but Christ is their true King because He provides true spiritual freedom.
The Lord goes on to say that His ministry is “today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.” Jesus tells Herod, the Pharisees, the disciples, and all around Him that He knows full well His ministry, His work will come to an end soon with the same fate that many prophets met in the capital city. He tells them all that the city where the glorious Temple of God dwells, the city where the people gather for Feats to celebrate the Faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the place where the Religion of Moses is centered in all the world, and where the Truth of the God of Adam and Eve was meant to be lived out as a “light for the whole world,” that city is the city where the prophets of God were killed, and where He will be betrayed and crucified.
Even knowing and declaring all that, Jesus laments the city by saying “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem …” The place that was supposed to be so transformed by the True Faith has reduced the True Faith to merely a cultural decoration and a way to keep “outsiders” out! A place where God sends prophets to call the people to repentance and return to the Faith and the people kill those prophets. But even after all that hypocrisy and failed faithfulness, Jesus tender tells them that He would have gathered all of them as a mother hen gathers her chicks to feed them, protect them, and shelter them, but they “would not.” “Would not” what? They would not be humble and honest enough to be gathered.
And the results are evident to this day. “Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” The area will forever be in turmoil, struggle, and conflict until that Day when the Lord returns and the city will finally be awake enough to recognize Christ for Who He really is – Their, and our, True King.
St. Arsenios the Cappadocian, is remembered today and this precious saint is very dear to me, personally. We were blessed to have his relics at the seminary in Boston, and, before my ordination, I spent many hours asking this dear saint to help me and strengthen me. He was born in 1840 in one of the Christian villages in Cappadocia, then occupied by the Ottoman Empire and a place where Christians were second-class citizens. He was so beloved by his people that he served as a priest, and was the priest who baptized and named St. Paisios. St. Arenios was said to heal both Christians and Muslims and he would not turn anyone away no matter who they were. He led his parish community to the newly freed Greece during the so-called “population exchange between Turkey and Greece in 1924. This 84-year-old man refused to abandon his people so he walked with them on their forced march out of Turkey. He died three months after they were forced to leave their homes and move to Greece. St. Arsenios was such a faithful shepherd and wise spiritual father that he knew all of this was coming and he encouraged a young St. Paisios to remain faithful no matter what life threw at him. He knew Who the True King was!
Today, know that no matter how far you may drift from the Faith, no matter how much you may struggle, the Lord still looks on you with compassion and a cry to come home. It doesn’t matter that your family may have had the Orthodox Faith for generations, you still need to allow that Faith to transform you so you can live out the consequences of knowing Who the True King really is. A Normal Orthodox Life always means keeping the fire of the Faith alive in your everyday living!
P.S. By a flood of tears you made the desert fertile, and your longing for God brought forth fruits in abundance. By the radiance of miracles, you illumined the whole universe! O our holy father Arsenios, pray to Christ our God to save our souls!