Day 205: Matthew 23:37-39

Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!

 And so your Temple will be abandoned and empty. From now on, I tell you, you will never see me again until you say, ‘God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord.’

[This is the first of two scriptures where Jesus talks about the destruction of the Temple.]

Jesus has just finished his great commentary on the state of Jewish religion in his “Woe to the Pharisees” speech.  This parting shot is not aimed at the religious leaders.  This is his message to the great city of Jerusalem, its people, and its culture. He tried to get them to change their ways but he failed (at least for the short term) because that generation wouldn’t listen to him.  And so the city that he loves so much will turn on him.  It will be forever known as the place where he will meet his death.

I grew up in the middle of the cornfields an hour and a half away from Chicago by car, but worlds away when it came to the culture.  The people in the town where I went to school thought that every evil thing emanated from Chicago.  As a very little girl I was repeatedly told that it was dangerous, evil, and (even worse) dirty.

I remember the first time I finally got in there and made it to the lakefront.  It was a beautiful summer day and it was absolutely breathtaking to a little girl raised in the corn fields.  It wasn’t evil, and it wasn’t dirty, and I made it home safely.  I fell in love.  When I imagined myself growing up I always knew that one possible option was to make a life there, which is what eventually happened.  I moved in there to pursue my career as a research geographer because job opportunities for geographers in rural America are few and far in between.

It didn’t take me long to look at the city as my home.  I travelled frequently for business and it was always a joy when I could see that skyline emerging out of the clouds as the plane approached O’Hare.  When travelling by car or bus I always felt a surge of joy as the skyscrapers emerged in the distance and buildings began to rise on every side. Sometimes, when the conditions were right, the Chicago skyline looked like heaven itself.   This is a completely appropriate comparison because the Bible never describes heaven as a peaceful countryside.  Heaven is always described as a city.

I lived on the far north side and it was always a thrill to see the sun rise and set from my high rise lakefront apartment.  Going downtown was a special treat, especially at Christmas when the lights were on.  I loved going to the restaurants, the theater, the museums, the nightclubs, the concerts, the stores, and all the rest.  I loved the whole culture.  I met a lot of really rich people and some super smart people.  I found out that rich people generally weren’t very smart, and smart people were seldom rich.  I learned that both groups seemed to have a lot more problems than the ordinary middle-class people I grew up with.

Over time I learned more about Chicago’s dark side, but for me it never overcame the beauty and the excitement.  After living there for about 7 years I started going to church, married the pastor, and eventually got involved with Chicago’s African-American culture.  They opened up their hearts to me, along with a whole new world that included extravagant worship, improvisational music, fervent prayer, life-affirming faith, hopefulness in the midst of despair, gratitude for every good thing, unabashed spirituality, soul food, sacrificial giving, the healing power of laughter, and the art of the picnic. But it was so hard to see the kinds of things the people had to deal with.  Sometimes it just broke my heart.  Substandard housing, lack of food, crippling poverty, educational barriers, unemployment, random violence, unrelenting fear, sub-standard medical care, and of course racism in all its many insidious forms.  So many problems.   We worked very hard to change things for the better.  I think all of us were changed for the better as a result of the effort. I still love going to Chicago.   It still has a piece of my heart.  The place where I found myself, discovered so much more about the world, and realized many of my dreams.  Love is blind.

Dorothy Papachristos was a secretary at my place of employment. She and her husband owned a restaurant in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago where street crime was common.  She tried to get the police to step it up but nothing changed.  And the situation was made even worse because the gangs then retaliated against her for complaining to the police.  Her next step was to call in New York’s Guardian Angels, who organized their citizen patrols. (For more on the Guardian Angels see Day 87).   What happened next shocked me.  Not only did she continue to be the target of harassment by the gangs; she also became the target of death threats by the Chicago Police.  But Dorothy was a follower of Jesus and she believed her task was to work for peace so she never gave up.  She became a full-time social worker and founded “Communities Dare to Care.”  Here’s a little more about her from a local news article:

In Chicago, Dorothy Papachristos, a Loyola University social worker and founder of Communities Dare to Care, believes she’s discovered a relevant way to talk with at-risk youth. “It’s called mother love,” says Papachristos.  Her focus is “to get kids out of gangs, to reconnect them to families, communities and schools,” even taking rival gang members, two at a time, into her home, offering structure, love and respect, with just one caveat: They have to share a bedroom.

She estimates thousands of young people have passed through programs she oversees, including basketball camps, mentoring and tutoring staffed by Loyola students, counseling and anger management. But there simply aren’t enough programs or funding. “Society’s approach is incarceration, zero tolerance, not intervention and prevention,” she says.

She got involved after gangs torched her Rogers Park family-owned restaurant. “I had to see who they were,” says Papachristos. “I found them, and I said, ‘Oh my God, they’re just children.’

“You have to have somebody in your life spiritually that keeps you going. They had nobody, except the gangs who give them a sense of family. But they don’t realize what they’re getting into. The two major things kids in gangs want are structure and love, a place to belong. They aren’t stupid; some are very smart. No one’s ever taken time to develop them.”

She mourns those lost to prison; two were murdered a few months ago. “I tell them, when they’re on the street, gangbanging, selling drugs, there are consequences. I haunt them. I yell and scream and take away their drugs. I get involved in their lives. One told me he had a gun in his hand, aimed at a policeman across the street. ‘I could have killed him,’ he said, ‘but I didn’t because I knew you’d be disappointed in me.’

“Another young kid stopped drinking. He said, ‘Every time I pick up a bottle of beer, your face is at the bottom.’ They fall, I pick them up. No one else has done that for them. They always ask what they can do for me. I say go do it for somebody else.”

She, too, thinks rap has detrimental effects. And like Johnson, she believes mainline churches have to change: “Somebody once said that, if every church opened their doors one day a week and did something for kids, we’d have no more gangs.”

Dorothy loved Chicago.  After they burned down her restaurant she tried to move to the suburbs but God used the whole terrible experience to transform her heart.  Her anger and outrage were replaced with compassion and she returned to the city.  Her love for the city became personal when she really got to know those young gang members.  Instead of seeing herself as a victim, she began to see her enemies as the true victims.  Victims of the city that she loved so much and could not leave.  Chicago: so beautiful, so violent, and so corrupt.

I think all of these experiences have given me a little bit of an idea about how Jesus felt.  There was Jerusalem, the shining city on a hill.  Jerusalem, the site of one of the grandest temples the world had ever known.  Jerusalem, the city where God dwelled, the crowning glory of the Jews.

The Lord built his city on the sacred hill; more than any other place in Israel he loves the city of Jerusalem. (Psalm 87:1-2)

The Lord answered the angel with comforting words, and the angel told me to proclaim what the Lord Almighty had said: “I have a deep love and concern for Jerusalem, my holy city (Zechariah 1:13-14).

Arise, Jerusalem, and shine like the sun; the glory of the LORD is shining on you!  Other nations will be covered by darkness, but on you the light of the LORD will shine; the brightness of his presence will be with you. Nations will be drawn to your light, and kings to the dawning of your new day….No longer will the sun be your light by day or the moon be your light by night; I, the LORD, will be your eternal light; the light of my glory will shine on you. Your days of grief will come to an end. I, the LORD, will be your eternal light, more lasting than the sun and moon. Your people will all do what is right, and will possess the land forever. I planted them, I made them, to reveal my greatness to all.  Even your smallest and humblest family will become as great as a powerful nation. When the right time comes, I will make this happen quickly. I am the LORD!” (Isaiah 60:1-3, 19-22).

Jesus was so disappointed.  He saw Jerusalem through the eyes of Isaiah.  He saw it as it could be, just as people like Dorothy Papachristos and my husband and me always had a vision for what Chicago could be.  And it broke Jesus’ heart that Jerusalem failed to live up to its potential.  It was on the way down.  Again, Jesus says:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone the messengers God has sent you! How many times I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!  And so your Temple will be abandoned and empty. From now on, I tell you, you will never see me again until you say, ‘God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord.’

Jesus mourns for the city that God loves.  Like the child who has everything, Jerusalem is spoiled, indulgent, and arrogant.  So beloved, and yet so ungrateful.  Jesus wants to help the people and save the city but he can’t do it because they won’t let him.  In fact, they will kill him for trying to talk some sense into them, because the people of Jerusalem have a long-standing tradition of killing anyone who tries to advocate for social justice or non-violence.  So Jesus tells them that the Temple is doomed, and that he will not return until they are ready to receive him.  He will not return until they say, “God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord” instead of trying to kill him.  He will not return until they are willing to receive his message.  It’s no use.  There’s no point in it.  Like they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

Jesus has received a vision from God.  He will fall victim to the violence of the Jews because he is doing and saying things that threaten their way of life.  After his death the violent Jewish zealots will take over and launch an attack against the Romans, who will retaliate by destroying the Temple.  And a few years later, not having learned their lesson, they will attack the Romans again.  As a result the city itself will be destroyed.  Jesus, the Temple, Jerusalem – all victims of a culture of violence.  All destroyed as a result of the ridiculous belief that violence will lead to anything good.

Nothing has changed.  Just like we have a hard time accepting Jesus’ teaching that money is bad, we also resist his message that violence is bad.  Always.  We don’t want to do what he says to do and love our enemies and turn the other cheek.   Our culture today is still being seduced by the deception that violence is the way to achieve peace and prosperity.  So if you are waiting impatiently for Jesus to return, I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.  He’s not coming back until we get the message and it continues to be a pretty hard sell.  We continue to defend to the death our right to kill others.

What does this scripture say to you?



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