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.