Luke 19: Now as he drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
Today’s reading in my Bible-in-a-year plan, unrelated to US elections tomorrow, but appropriate. I can imagine Jesus in America, watching and weeping. The chapter prior he has been saying some pretty uncomfortable things, and I quote: “Shall not God avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.” Who is crying out day and night in 2020? “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the Kingdom of God.” What is the state of our children in 2020? “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Is this what we hear preached to the self-justifying and satisfied top 10% of the world economically? It’s what Jesus said to a young man who had wealth, power, and a moral majority type of record. “There is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.” A bitter acknowledgment that being together with family is not the ultimate metric of God’s will. Then Jesus reminds the disciples that he is going to Jerusalem to be scourged, mocked, spit upon, and killed, but on the third day he will rise.
Overall, the things that make for peace seem paradoxically uncomfortable. Justice for the marginalised. Gentle welcoming of children, access and acceptance and love. Radical voluntary distribution of profits to the poor rather than all-holds-barred accumulation. Willingness to forgo our own families, even. Walking with Jesus into suffering. Risking everything because we know the cross was the pivot point of evil’s defeat. All of these show an acknowledgment that there is something of such high value that the pursuit of that reality ultimately changes all our metrics.
(In fact, the rich-young-ruler who has money, power, and social embrace contrasts a few paragraphs later with the tax collector, who has money, power, and social opprobrium. Both encounter Jesus out of curiosity, restlessness, seeking. Both receive his attention, and engagement. But the tax collector, a figure of some ridiculousness climbing a tree, ends up grasping the message. He not only delights in Jesus’ banter, welcoming him to his home, he goes the extra step of announcing reparation plans. The crowd is scandalised, God is pleased.)
Tomorrow, and for the weeks and months and probably years to come, we as Americans are a country deeply divided. I think Jesus weeps over our churches as he did over the rich young ruler, deceived that power and money and superficial ten-commandment checklists were the ultimate measure of success. I think Jesus would be reaching out to both the law-abiding ruler and the law-breaking tax collector, whoever the equivalents are today, and finding places to demonstrate compassion. 2020 is already a year with mortality such as we have not seen since world wars. How will we rise? The way up is down, as always in the teaching of Jesus. Love, the kind that casts out fear. Realising we ARE those little children who are welcomed, accepted, seen, enough. Then taking that love out sacrificially to others in justice and generosity.
Because no matter whom you vote for, it is pretty much guaranteed that people you love are listening to a completely different set of narratives. We all think ours matches the truth best, and it’s our job to struggle with that, to check sources, to observe, to not ignore the uncomfortable dissonant sayings and events. But even when we land on what we think fits Jesus’ values best, a huge percentage of people even in our close circles will decide differently. And the only way forward into 2021 is to keep working to address that gap without using shame or fear or coercion or hate. Jesus does not shame, name-call, punch, shoot, exclude. Jesus joins the conversation, the meals, with penetrating questions and a readiness to heal.
Let’s start with the simplest exercise in that kind of kindness: the COVID pandemic disproportionately affects people who are old, who are overweight, who are hypertensive, who are poor, who are minorities. So if you don’t fit into those categories, every time you put on a mask and wash your hands and limit your own freedom of movement and association, you do so to care for others. Simple as that.
Tomorrow and beyond, let us pray with Jesus for the things that make for peace, even as we walk with Jesus on the path of the cross. Every time we rest on the fact that we are loved and cared for by our Father in Heaven, and can therefore confidently consider the common good of our neighbours . . . well, that's a step towards peace.