Tag Archives: Pharisees

Tears for a city

Jerusalem City from the Bible

Jerusalem, City from the Bible
By Peter van der Sluijs (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times have I wanted to put my arms round all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me! (Matthew 23: 37)

The lament over Jerusalem is part of the story of Palm Sunday, incomplete without another verse that shows how much Jesus cared for the holy city: When he came to the city, he caught sight of it and wept over it. (LUKE 19: 41). Jerusalem was a big disappointment to Jesus. He accuses her of constant attempts to reject and even kill the messengers God sent. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often have I longed to put my arms round you and you spurned me over and again!” It is not difficult to sense the pathos of it. Now it was his turn to be the target of her folly, her cruel intent. The major part of our Lord’s ministry was conducted in Galilee. Except in Nazareth, his home village, he was welcome in Galilee. The little we know of his ministry in Jerusalem tells another story. His time there is marked by a distinctively different tone and tempo. The Pharisees could be relied upon to create trouble, as part of a cunning and fierce opposition, and people were turning their backs on him. One might have expected something different in Jerusalem – the nerve centre of religious and political life. Here was built the most splendid temple to the glory of God. Here the religious elite gathered at their holy place to worship HIm. For the Judean, Jerusalem breathed a holy air. Alas, it was not to be. “O Jerusalem, how often I have longed put my arms around you – and you would not let me!” Words that tell how much Jesus loved Jerusalem, and also how deep was his disappointment.

Jesus suffered no delusions – he warned the disciples that the visit on which they had embarked would lead to suffering and death: something the disciples refused to believe, “Lord this will never happen to you!” Riding into the city on the back of a donkey challenged his opponents on their understanding of his God-given authority. This deliberate act challenged them one final time to turn around and to make their own the message which God had entrusted to Jesus, to welcome Him instead of rallying to be rid of Him. Trouble lay ahead and Jesus knew it! If the disciples had a problem (it will not happen to you) and they were his friends, what chance was there of his enemies rising to a more friendly reception? O Jerusalem, how often I have wanted to hug you and you turned away – words which tell how much Jesus loved that great city and how much it hurt to have his numerous overtures rejected, especially when much of the opposition was instigated and led by the religious, the Pharisees, who ought to have been on his side.

Some people turn on the tears as easily as they turn on the tap for water: some weep for nothing and cannot help themselves. Some weep and the onlooker may scarcely notice the quiet, gentle trickle on the cheek. I remember a friend of my parents coming to our home one evening in considerable distress with a letter received from her fiancé saying their engagement was off. Just like that – totally out of the blue! She loved him, and to say she was upset is an understatement. Although I was young at the time I have never forgotten the tears of a women jilted. As she wept the tears of unrequited love, the bed shook and her whole body trembled uncontrollably. When Jesus wept for Jerusalem it was not like turning on the tap, not a sign of emotional weakness, nor was it a whimper of self-pity. The word for weep in the story of Palm Sunday is a very strong word, one that is used for the heaving of the bosom, the sob and cry of a soul in agony – symptom of a broken heart!

When he came to the city, he caught sight of it and wept over it.

They fancied their chances


“When you sit on your throne in your glorious Kingdom, we want you to let us sit with you, one on your right and one on your left” Mark 10:37

Marco Basaiti: Call of the sons of Zebedee. Picture credit: Wikimedia

Marco Basaiti: Call of the sons of Zebedee. Picture credit: Wikimedia

The tale of two ambitious young men who fancied their chances: the sons of Zebedee and disciples of Jesus. They wanted the highest place of honour, the place closest to Jesus when the Master attained his day of influence and power, “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “We have something we want you to do for us. Arrange it so that we will be rewarded the highest places of honour in your glory – one on your right, the other on your left.” (The Message – Petersen) Two young men, neither shy in currying favour with Jesus – their ambition to be given the most prominent places in Jesus’ glorious kingdom!

Ambition: nothing wrong with ambition – depends on what motivates it and how it is pursued. The Talmud (the Jewish Bible) lists seven types of Pharisee and it puts at the top of the list the “what do I get out of it” Pharisee. They may not be religious, but for some time now the media has regularly drawn to our attention, people (mainly men) being awarded, or awarding themselves, colossal sums of money, salaries, ultra-generous bonuses, excessive settlement payments and, in some cases, what appears to be rewards for failure. Despite the adverse publicity and condemnation, there would appear to be still around those whose ambition is of the “what do I get out of it” variety and, in many cases, an ambition fuelled by greed. But ambition can be, and is, much healthier and above-board.

She made history when appointed Speaker’s Chaplain at Parliament: Rose Hudson-Wilkin is a Church of England priest. An interesting character, her story the more remarkable because she is the first woman to hold this appointment and she is a black woman. Those who know her are sure she is “going places” in the church and she is widely tipped as the first Church of England women bishop. When asked if she had any desire to climb the ecclesiastical ladder, she said this was most certainly not an ambition she cherished. “And that is truth” she said. She went on to say that she had two ambitions in life after ordination. One was to meet Desmond Tutu and the other was to meet Nelson Mandela. “I have achieved my ambitions” she said. “I have no other ambition, I’ve done it.” Away from her duties in Parliament, Rose is happily and contentedly caring pastorally in two East End parishes – all she wanted to do from an early age. Her story – the story of a different, more acceptable ambition. A bit different from that which I imagine to have driven the sons of Zebedee to ask their favour of Jesus.

Have I grounds for describing the ambition of James and John in the way I do? Am I being fair to them since neither Mark nor Matthew go into that kind of detail? Well, I have to admit it’s only an unsubstantiated idea of mine. However, reading between the lines may provide a clue. What should I be looking for? First, is it possible for the ambition of those two disciples to be in any way like the “what do I get out of it” kind? Imagine the scene, the occasion!

James and John in a party on the way to Jerusalem; Jesus walking ahead of them, the disciples – bewildered and afraid. Jesus had warned them of what awaited them there: intense hostility, arrest, trial, death. Nevertheless, the disciples did not understand what was happening. They certainly were aware that Jesus was not exaggerating when He warned how He would be treated. What distressed them was the Master’s insistence that the journey to Jerusalem was to culminate in the Cross. Their ambition for Him was more in accord with Handel’s MessiahKing of kings and Lord of lords”. And this is what may have got the ambitious duo to thinking, here may be our last chance to take our dream to Him and secure our place at the top table. Better get our request in now, before it’s too late. I have a feeling, I hope I’m not doing anyone an injustice, that somehow or other they managed to get Jesus to themselves, away from his friends – without them knowing. And, with a bit of flattery to create a better impression, they dispense a bit of verbal garnish to their pleading, instead of referring simply to “Your kingdom” they speak of “Your glorious kingdom”. To achieve their inflated and selfish interests the Twins were prepared to be a wee bit sneaky. As for the Kingdom – it ran second.

Hans Süß von Kulmbach: Mary Salome and Zebedee with their sons James and John. Photo credit: Wikimedia

Hans Süß von Kulmbach: Mary Salome and Zebedee with their sons James and John. Photo credit: Wikimedia

There is an additional and intriguing aspect to this tale. Matthew in telling this story puts a different slant on it. With Matthew it’s not the lads who went to Jesus but their mother: “The wife of Zebedee came to Jesus with her two sons, bowed (further flattery?) before Him and asked her favour.” “Promise me she asked,” that these two sons of mine will sit on your right and your left when you are King.” (Matthew 20:20-21). She obviously thought her lads were worthy of such recognition and that she had the better chance of succeeding – perhaps her charm would do the trick! On the other hand, it has been suggested, and it might be correct, that Matthew was of the opinion that the Zebedee family’s action was unworthy of an apostle and to save the reputation of James and John he attributed it to the natural ambition of a mother for her offspring. When they got to Jesus, she did the talking, but her sons were with her. However we read it and whoever wrote it years after the event, the other disciples were vexed and indignant with the behaviour of their two colleagues – with good cause. I think we may well be talking about two aspirants to fame, of the “what can I get out of it” syndrome. Nothing wrong with ambition, the right kind, but we have to ask – did those two imagine that acquiring the chief places next to Jesus when He was King in His glorious kingdom would invest them with power as well as place? That’s the next question.

To be continued. . . . . . .