Jesus weeping over Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34) is a relatively small brush stroke in the Synoptic portrait of his life and ministry.
Yet, it is a poignant reminder of the context in which his disclosure of God’s agenda is made.
As he approaches the city that has become the center of the covenant faith of Israel, with clouds of opposition already gathering on the horizon, his lament echoes that of his prophetic predecessor Jeremiah, who grieved the injustice and idolatry that had been the offspring of the alliance of religion and power in his day.
Both laments are sorrowful expressions of disappointment over what could be and what is.
The covenant faith offered a redemptive partnership between God and the faith community to be a blessing to all nations, but that opportunity had fallen victim to a desire to “be like the other nations” with the advantages of privilege and power.
Jesus’ work and teaching had demonstrated the power of compassion and service, especially in the embrace of the poor and marginalized. This was perceived as a threat to stability by those who controlled the understanding of the covenant faith, as well as the social, economic and political context.
It is hard to miss the tone of disappointment that is reflected here.
This awareness of the undercurrent of hostility that awaited him is overshadowed in the narrative by the soon-to-occur “triumphal entry” of Palm Sunday. But it is there, nonetheless.
Its presence is a reminder of the tension in the call to discipleship between a commitment to a vision of a reconciled community and the forces that would work against it.
Disappointment is no stranger to our human experience. When things, large and small, don’t turn out the way we had hoped, the valley of disappointment becomes the route of our journey for a time – maybe for a long time.
Recent events and encounters in our collective life have produced varied levels of disappointment and some careful reflection. Beneath the surface of particular outcomes of voting decisions, which most always reflect a mixture of celebration and disappointment, there is a feature of the process that is disappointing on a different level.
I refer here to the personal experience of knowing very good, well-meaning people who fall victim to carefully constructed narratives that exploit fear, resentment and misinformation to generate energy in support of outcomes that favor not the common good but the special interests of one segment of society or another.
The discomfort of seeing and hearing friends express well-worn talking points that are clearly contrary to well-documented facts and evidence must be akin to the sorrow of Jeremiah and Jesus as they looked at Jerusalem and the faith community, lamenting what could have been.
Reflecting on this experience has led me to think that hope and disappointment are part of the same faith perspective.
Without hope rooted in a vision of possibility, there would not be the experience of disappointment. As the saying goes, “Expect little, and you will be much less likely to be disappointed.”
If Jesus and Jeremiah had not been grounded in the hope of a covenant faith that saw the redemptive and reconciling possibilities of a divine-human partnership, then they probably would not have grieved so deeply the departure from that path that Jerusalem had taken.
So, is giving up a hopeful vision the solution for disappointment?
That would work, I suppose, in relieving the discomfort. But it would come at a high price for a life of faith.
The pain of disappointment reflected in the Bible’s portraits of Jeremiah and Jesus is real, but so is their enduring vision of what remains possible.
Jeremiah’s lament gave way to a vision of a renewed covenant (Jeremiah 31: 31-34); and Jesus’ sorrowful words to and about Jerusalem were overshadowed by his vision of a new kind of kingdom, beyond rejection and even the cross, that was already at work within the human family (Luke 19:21).
Disappointment is real and uncomfortable, and it can strain relationships.
But the hopeful possibility of a community that transcends the flaws of the “Jerusalems” of our time is always worth holding on to.
I’ll take the disappointment if I get to keep the hope, even when its path forward is unclear.
Professor emeritus of religious studies at Mercer University, a member of Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and the author of Keys for Everyday Theologians (Nurturing Faith Books, 2022).