41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43Indeed, 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. 44They 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.’*
Jesus came to the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem, and he wept over the city. For her people did not know the things that make for peace – love, and redemption. These things were hidden from them, as different factions of Judaism at the time focused on different things, but not on peace. The Zealots focused on hate, of the Romans; the Pharisees on law, following their own traditions of the law to the letter; and the Essenes – well they had withdrawn altogether, to live in the desert. The Pharisees and Sadducees (the old guard, traditionalists) sought to appease the Romans; their excuse for crucifying Jesus was that he threatened the delicate political situation. The Zealots would start a war, in 66 AD, that would end with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. (The Essenes in the desert would also be destroyed, but not before they hid their library in caves – those writings we know as the Dead Sea Scrolls.) The Romans did indeed set up ramparts around the city; and they crushed her to the ground, after a long siege in which the people starved and died while the Zealot leaders fought among themselves, taking refuge in the temple itself and defiling it by murdering one another there. It is another sad episode in the history of Jerusalem. And it had profound effects on the emerging Christian church.
But today, there is still a delicate political situation in Jerusalem, and in Israel. Jerusalem is the center for three of the world’s major religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We visited Christian holy sites throughout the city, and around it. Jews come there from around the world just to touch and pray at the Western Wall, a part of the base of the temple, as it was restored by Herod the Great. We saw another wall of that same base which has recently been found by the archeologists, but is not a pilgrimage site, for tradition has identified the Western Wall for that – it was the only remnant of the temple for many generations. And Muslims, of course, come on pilgrimage to the great mosque with the golden dome built over the site of the original temple. This is one of their most holy sites.
The political situation is complex – On my previous journey to Israel our guide was a Palestinian Christian; this trip our guide was of Jewish heritage. Both could point to wrongs and atrocities; the Palestinians hate the walls Israel has erected around Bethlehem and other cities – Israel claims they are necessary to keep terrorists out, to prevent children being killed by bombs in the streets. Both agree that the refugee camps that have existed since 1948 are a breeding ground of hate and terrorists. It is a complex situation; having heard both sides I am convinced only of the complexity.
Can’t we just get along? Can’t we learn to love one another? I fear Jesus would again weep over Jerusalem! What can we do – we can indeed pray for the peace of Jerusalem. But take care – many of those who say pray for peace in Jerusalem are praying for the capitol of Israel to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and that could only be peaceful if it were a united nation of both Palestinians and Israelis. Otherwise, the city needs not to be anyone’s capital, but an international city, shared by all faiths.
over the city –
if only you knew
what brings peace –
But there is no peace
and not today –
And there are
not simple ones –
hate and fear –
each centered here
each wounded here
each fearful –
Why can’t we
learn to love
The city of Jerusalem – note the golden Dome of the Rock
the recently uncovered wall of the temple mount
the "Teaching Steps" of the temple entry