In A.D. 70 the Roman general Titus surrounded the city of Jerusalem. The Empire had had enough of rebellions of the Jews and sought to bring to an end to the rebels’ take over of the city in A.D. 66. The total destruction of the Jewish Temple during the Roman attack brought to an end centuries of Jewish worship and priestly ministry in the Temple. It was not rebuilt, and Judaism changed forever with no Temple to conduct the rituals of the Jewish faith. The rebellion of the Jews against the Roman Empire brought an end to that part of Jewish life.
In fact, this event marks the development of a Judaism that is very different from the Judaism practiced during the time of Jesus.
The Christians of the day, having been warned by the Lord that the destruction of Jerusalem was coming, actually left the city before this tragedy, and this also marked the final break between those Jews who had become Christians and those Jews who had rejected Christ as the Messiah. Such turmoil. Such destruction.
Look at our lesson today in Luke 19:37-44:
At that time, as Jesus was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
At the time of our Lord’s earthly ministry, the Jews were desperate for liberation from the Romans, and “Messiah fever” was high. When they saw the miracles that Jesus had done, even raising the dead, they all thought “Here is the One to lead our nation to freedom from the Romans.”
But these poor folks were blinded by their misunderstanding of the kind of Kingdom and the kind of peace the Messiah was to bring.
They certainly were telling the truth when they called Jesus “the King who comes in the name of the Lord” but they missed just what kind of Kingdom this King was sent to establish. Even the religious leaders of His day told the Lord to tell His followers to be silent, but Jesus responded that the truth of His identity could no longer be hidden. The very creation would pick up the shout if the people were silenced.
These folks all thought they knew what they needed for peace in their lives. They thought if only they could overthrow the Romans then there would be peace. They thought that the Messiah was coming to bring some political peace to Jerusalem. But they were so very wrong! Jesus laments their blindness with a chilling phrase: “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!” Their shallow blindness meant they were missing the true peace Jesus came to give, and it was much bigger and more profound than just a political change for the city of Jerusalem.
Our Lord had come as King, to be sure, but as a King over a Kingdom “not of this world.” His Kingdom was meant to be within us so that the freedom and peace we receive from His Kingship in our lives changes us forever so that we can truly be at peace from the inside out, not merely on the outside! That’s why the Church gives us this season to prepare to truly welcome the Lord in Bethlehem. All the spiritual preparations are meant to reorient us away from a shallow expectation to a more real and more healthy recognition that this is God Himself coming to us to be like us and to make us like Him!
St. James, the Great Martyr of Persia, lived in the 5th century during the reign of King Isdiger in Persia. James had been raised as a Christian, but in his early adulthood, he became close friends with King Isdiger, and the King’s flatteries and great wealth turned the head of James and he renounced Christ to worship the idols his friend, the King, worshipped. When his mother and his wife heard what James had done, they wrote him and told him they would no longer have anything to do with him since he preferred temporal pleasures over the eternal love of Christ. James was cut to the heart and repented. By the time of his repentance a new King had succeded his friend, and this new King was furious that James had renounced the king’s idols and returned to Christ. The king ordered James “dismembered” and the saint endured this torture until he was beheaded in 421 AD and was given the eternal crown.
Today, do you still think that your surroundings have to be perfect for you to have peace? Are you participating in the Life of the Church so that you can truly see the kind of peace Jesus brings instead of the temporary pleasures of mere affluence? Jesus offers us a peace that passes understanding which means we can have inner peace no matter what’s going on around us. That kind of peace can’t be disturbed by life’s hard times. That kind of peace only flows from living a normal Orthodox Life!
P.S. O stout-hearted James, persuaded by your noble wife and fearing the dread tribunal, you did scorn all fear of the Persians with their profane decrees, and you were shown forth to be a most wondrous martyr of Christ when all of your body was pruned like a vine.
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