As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’
Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be a house of prayer”;
but you have made it a den of robbers.’
Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard. — Luke 19:41-48
Somehow it is difficult to read about Jesus weeping. Feeling despair, yes, pain, perhaps fear, yes, but crying? We know about the cross and all it stood for but standing and looking at a city, tears flowing as if over the failing body of a loved one? That is very hard to imagine. Yet here we have that image, stark and black.
It’s much easier to read about and see Jesus getting angry and driving the moneychangers and sellers of sacrificial animals out of the temple. We would applaud that; a religious building of the stature of the temple (or a cathedral or even a small chapel or synagogue) shouldn’t be like the local marketplace, with the bawling of animals, the clink of coins and the sounds of haggling over price.
It’s also easier to see him teaching a group of people, sitting at his feet and looking at him adoringly and with awe like any modern crowd of disciples around a charismatic and respected guru, with disapproving people standing in the back of the crowd, listening and glowering at him powerlessly — for now. Jesus is stepping on their figurative toes, very hard it would seem, and they didn’t like it, not at all. They couldn’t do anything about it; he wasn’t doing anything illegal or even blasphemous enough to drag him before either the Romans or the Jewish courts. So they had to bide their time and just watch, waiting for the slightest slip. Meanwhile Jesus continued to do as he had done, undoubtedly aware of what was going on at the back of the crowd but concentrating more on those who had ears to hear.
Still, the passage opens with Jesus weeping. It was hard to see him in tears over the grave of Lazarus, but that was a normal sort of grief, that of losing a loved one.
Prophetic grieving, though, that’s something that is difficult to understand. It certainly has Biblical antecedents: prophets like Jeremiah delivered that kind of message and used the same kind of emotion to call Jerusalem and Israel to repentance before the predicted destruction came to pass. Still, seeing a prophet in distress is one thing but seeing Jesus himself experience it over Jerusalem is another, especially since in the space of a verse or so his sorrow has turned to anger and his cloak of mourning becomes one of righteous wrath. We remember the anger, but often we overlook the great grief that preceded it.
There are some today who would say that there are prophets supposedly weeping over our country and delivering prophetic messages of destruction if we don’t repent and turn around. I wonder — are they true prophets or human beings with strong beliefs who feel that God wants us all to follow their particular path to redemption? I don’t really doubt their sincerity, just their interpretation of what they read in the gospels. If I had seen and heard Jesus, though, would I have felt the same way? Would I have understood the prophetic grief of his words and the testimony of his tears? I wonder.
All I can do is test what I hear against what I believe God wants me to know and understand. Then I have to look around and see what I can do to help effect a change for the better, a way of participating in redemption rather than destruction. It’s a tall order — and one where a few tears may be required.