Trinity X.  August 5, 2018.  Good Shepherd, Palm Bay, FL

St. Luke 19, verse 41 – And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it…. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Jesus weeps.  He weeps in my text today as he draws near to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.  Immediately before this text our Lord has been acclaimed by the multitude with ‘palms and scatter’d garments strowed’, as the hymn puts it.  But suddenly the hymns and praises of the crowd stop, our Lord sees the holy city, ‘and [he] wept over it’.  In the context of Saint Luke’s gospel this text is striking in part because of its contrast with the triumphant reception that came just before it:  we move very suddenly from triumph to tears.  But the text also is contrary to the usual picture of Jesus in Saint Luke’s gospel.  Usually in Luke Christ seems very much in charge of things.  As a child of twelve he teaches the rabbis in the temple and reminds his Mother and Saint Joseph who his real father is.  He stills the storm, he heals the sick, he teaches the ignorant, he rebukes the great.

Luke even shows Jesus in charge during his Passion:  at his arrest he pauses to heal the severed ear of one of the temple soldiers (22.51); he is nobly silent or virtually so before Pilate and Herod (23.9); and from the Cross itself he promises paradise to the penitent thief and resigns his life with the confident words, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ (23.46)   From first to last our Lord in Luke is in control and acts with composure and with little apparent emotion.  Yet here, as ‘he beheld the city…he wept over it’.

These tears are not entirely unprecedented.  I hope we all know that the shortest verse in the English Bible, Saint John 11, verse 35, is this:  ‘Jesus wept.’  The other gospels certainly show us a Lord who weeps for his dead friend and is moved with compassion and pity on many other occasions.  In Luke’s gospel the words ‘laugh’ and ‘laughter’ hardly appear at all, while ‘weep’ and ‘wept’ occur over 40 times.  But the tears here are still odd.  Only Luke gives us this scene, with the Lord weeping over Jerusalem.  Matthew, Mark, and John do not tell us this story.  So why does Luke show our Lord weeping over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday?

We have a hint later in the gospel, as our Lord is walking on the way to the cross.  When a group of women who are following ‘bewailed and lamented him’, he turns to them and says,

Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.  For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.  Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.  (23.28ff.)

This passage also is only in Saint Luke’s gospel.  In between these two passages about weeping for Jerusalem, comes a sermon during Holy Week, in which our Lord foretells the destruction of Jerusalem.  Our Lord weeps in Luke because he knows that the Romans will destroy the city in a few years.

Our Lord weeps, and tells those who love him to weep, not because he himself is suffering, not because he hates those who will reject him, not because he fears his coming Passion.  Our Lord weeps with compassion and love for those who will reject him.  He weeps for the holy city because it is doomed.  He weeps for those who do not want the good news that he brings.  He weeps to show that God has entered into our world with compassion, mercy, and love, not to punish and reject but to convert and to save.  He weeps because in his omniscience he knows that the free gift which he offers will be spurned and refused by many of us, to our hurt and our loss.

In this respect we have our own experience to help us understand.  Parents no doubt often disapprove of or regret what their children do.  But what really hurts is to watch someone we love make decisions which we know will produce sorrow and pain, particularly when we suspect that the decision will have long-term or permanent effects.  Parents want few things as much as that their children should be happy and good.  Few things can be as painful, then, as to see destructive choices being made.  ‘If only you knew; if only you understood,’ a parent might say.  Or as our Lord does say in this gospel, ‘If thou hadst known…the things which belong unto thy peace!  But now they are hid from thine eyes.’ (19.42)   The death of his friend, Lazarus, and the foreknowledge of Jerusalem’s coming doom, when the Romans will destroy the city:  these are the things that reduce the Lord of compassion and mercy to tears.

God does not cease to love us when we reject him.  Love is God’s nature, and he can no more not love us than he can not be God.  In his divine omnipotence and omniscience, God knows that all things and all decisions ultimately are part of his Providential plan for the universe.  In his divinity God does not weep, because he knows that the world is governed and over-ruled by his goodness.  But from the human perspective, which God assumed when he took upon himself human nature of Jesus – from that perspective the sins of the world produce intense suffering, unnecessary pain and evil, and overwhelming desolation and loss.  The evil of the world is finally controlled by God and is turned into part of the pattern of the universe.  But God also sees things from our perspective, and by becoming one of us he shares in the tears of the world.  We are assured of God’s understanding and compassion, because God became man and dwelt among us.  Lest we complain that the suffering of this world is too great, God took it upon himself at the Incarnation, and lived it out to the end, even unto the bitter end of a shameful, painful death.

Saint Luke’s gospel is often called the Gospel of Joy.  Luke, more than any other of the gospels, tells us of joy:  the angels singing Gloria in excelsis; our Lady singing Magnificat; Simeon singing Nunc dimittis; Zacharias singing Benedictus.  But the joy comes because Jesus wept.  The joy comes because God took to himself at the Incarnation everything that is human, so that it all might be redeemed and transformed and transfigured.  He went not up to joy before he first tasted death.  He does not save us without weeping for our sins.  He brings joy precisely because he suffered, and that for our sakes, not his own.  ‘Gospel’ means ‘good news’.  The good news is that Christ weeps for us in our transitory life, so that we might rejoice with God in his eternal life.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen

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