It is a poignant brush stroke in Luke’s portrait of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of that crucial week that led from triumphal reception along the road to rejection and death at the hands of entrenched power.
Jesus paused, looking at the city that represented the center of the covenant faith. He wept, Luke says, lamenting, “If you had only known what would lead to wholeness, but now you cannot see it; and your blindness will lead to dire consequences” (Luke 19:41-44).
Jesus would have been aware of the increasing rigidity with which the covenant faith was being interpreted because he had spent so much time with those who had been excluded by its narrow definitions of faith.
He would have known of the alliance of religious authority and the empire because he had dealt with many of the victims of its neglect and abuse.
He would have known that the holy city had replaced Abraham’s covenant of blessing to all nations with David’s royal covenant of lineage and pedigree because he had seen the cruelty of perspective and behavior leveled by the privileged toward those not on the inside.
Good reason for weeping, especially if you have spent all your time and energy trying to show folks what God would wish for the human family.
I suppose we can all imagine Jesus weeping over features of more recent history as well.
He most certainly would have wept over the centuries of racial oppression that are stained with the prejudice and hatred of even Christian people.
We can easily picture him weeping over the treatment of Native Americans as they were displaced and robbed of their homelands by the descendants of European settlers, many of whom saw possession of the new land as a sign of God’s blessing.
How could he not have wept over the murder of millions in the Holocaust, while millions more were silent, and some, even some Christian theologians, supported it as a way of dealing with the “Jewish problem”?
We weep with him in response to all of these.
I have been wondering this week what Jesus would weep over as he looks at our “Jerusalems” of today.
Surely we have not defined faith in a way that excludes. Surely we have not let religion and power become intertwined in ways that deny access for some to the avenues of wholeness that are available to others. Surely we have not been complicit in the murder of innocent people.
I wonder if he would weep over our ability to insulate ourselves from and render invisible those in need, even close to us.
I wonder if he would weep over our tolerance and even passionate defense of a system of health care that leaves millions without affordable access to its benefits.
I wonder if he would weep over our use of legal power to exclude neighbors from our communities once we feel they do not benefit us and might cost us something.
I wonder if he would weep over our tendency to be led in our thinking by the loudest voice rather than discerning which voice is speaking truthfully.
I wonder if he would weep over our willingness to let money control the decision-making processes that determine what kind of society we will have.
I wonder if he would weep over our collective amnesia that fails to learn the most basic lessons from even our most recent past about what leads to sustainability and wholeness, as we are tempted to choose the comfort of short-range solutions over the sacrifice required to build more stable foundations for a hopeful future.
Perhaps Jesus wept over Jerusalem because he knew more about its inhabitants than they were willing to know about themselves. I wonder if he knows more about us than we are willing to know about ourselves.
Does this lack of knowledge cause us to cheer his arrival one day and call for his crucifixion a few days later?
Can we see a true reflection of ourselves by looking at his tears? And can we look through the lens of his tears into the heart of God who offers the things that make for wholeness whenever we are willing to see ourselves truthfully?
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).