When Jesus delivered his condemnation of the Pharisees and scribes in Jerusalem, he did so knowing both the city’s vast history and potential future.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing,” he lamented in Matthew 23:37.
Ever since King David moved the capital from Hebron to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 5:6-16), the City of David has been at the center of a biblical struggle between being a symbol of power or a beacon of hope.
The city of Jerusalem has a distinct honor and heavy burden of being built upon sacred land for three major religions. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all claim Jerusalem as holy and essential to their faith. Each one has a unique story and claim to the ancient stones that make up the city’s skyline.
For Jews, Jerusalem is the place where God saved Isaac from Abraham’s knife and the location of the ancient temple.
For Christians, Jerusalem is the place where Jesus was crucified and rose three days afterward.
For Muslims, Jerusalem is the place Mohammad ascended into heaven.
Therefore, Jerusalem has been seen as a special place for a vast number of Abraham’s descendants.
On the contrary, however, over the last 2,000 years, this holy city has also been a place of violence and death. From European Crusades to the Six-Day War, the children of Abraham have all laid claim to control of the city and region.
When Jesus strode into Jerusalem just before his crucifixion, he understood the dangers of allowing earthly kingdoms to become more important than God’s kingdom.
Earthly structures lead to conflict and war, while those seeking divine systems work toward inclusive community and eternal peace. When vision focuses on controlling earthly structures, siblings war and death follows.
As I watch the unrest unfold in Israel this week, I cannot help but weep as Jesus wept. Watching the powerful attempt to build earthy kingdoms while children die in the streets makes my soul hurt.
Before delivering his longing to embrace Jerusalem in Matthew 23, Jesus warned of pious people attempting to build earthly structures in their image.
He deemed them arrogant (23:1-12), exclusionary (23:13-15), greedy for gold (23:16-22), hypocrites (23:23-24), disingenuous (23:25-26), fake (23:27-28) and executioners of the prophets (23:29-36).
For Jesus, Jerusalem was more than a place – it was a state of being. Jerusalem represented the way the world could be – a place where all were welcomed in the presence of God. It could be a place where all the world would confess their sin, experience grace and discover love.
Yet, Jesus knew that the powerful would never allow that dream to be fulfilled. Thus, Jesus walked the way of the prophet.
He rode through the city gates not as a conqueror on a white stallion, but as a servant upon an ordinary mule.
He entered Jerusalem to liberate the oppressed but found powerful resistance from those that clung to their earthly desires.
In Jerusalem, Jesus found death on a cross at the hands of dominance. In the end, Jesus made good on his words.
Through the hope of the gospel, Jesus embraced all of Jerusalem as a mother hen gathers her brood.
What if all of us – Jews, Christians and Muslims – would let him gather us under his wings of love? What if we all followed his instructions as he taught in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7)?
Maybe then the world would see the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2) as the city on a hill (Matthew 5:14) that the whole world would seek for hope and peace.
Until that day when hope and peace reign, I offer this prayer:
Lord, forgive us when humanity continues our pursuit to control Jerusalem and use that control as a force for power and oppression.
Lord, forgive us when we witness more death and destruction conducted behind the disguises of selfish desires and political rhetoric.
Lord, forgive us when more Jewish, Christian and Muslim children die because we so-called adults choose earthly powers over an eternal love.
Lord, we pray for shalom, we pray for peace, and we pray for salaam.
Lord, may Abraham’s children listen to the call of Jesus, as we will find room for everyone under his long wingspan of faith, hope and love.