Friday, June 12, 2009

The things that make for peace

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.’

Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, ‘It is written,

“My house shall be a house of prayer”;

but you have made it a den of robbers.’

Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.

- Luke 19:41-48

As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he seems to view it from a distance, and take in the city as a whole. Jerusalem is indeed a special place, and Jesus seems to think of it as such. The second half of its name (salem) means “peace.” I have to ponder, myself, what Jesus means by “the things that make for peace.” We have been taught in the gospels, in so many ways, what makes for peace. Is Jesus referring to the things that make for peace between people? Between countries? Or the peace that is an internal reality, which he shares with his disciples as he parts? Whatever we may make of the word “peace,” there is no doubt that it is manifest as right-relatedness, a reconciliation to something beyond ourselves. This peace begins with God and the reality of God – of truth and just judgment. But it extends to the righteousness that must, in an ideal understanding, pervade all our relationships. It’s like the summing up of the Law and the Prophets: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and all your strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.” What we can cultivate in relationship in our inner lives to this source of peace must flower as an extension around us. And over and over again in Luke’s gospel we have been taught this. Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, foreseeing the city’s fate. For me, I can simply recall the choice that will come at the crucifixion when I read Jesus' words about lacking the understanding of what makes for peace: Barabbas (the nationalist fighter) is chosen over Jesus for saving from crucifixion. A way was chosen; it was not the way Jesus teaches us is the way to peace. Certainly a people oppressed in any form have rights that must be recognized, but I take this to mean that there are priorities through which we realize justice and good judgment, be that applied to the issues of today or the power struggles of Jesus’ time. When it comes to a choice, we must seek first things first.

And also, in the gospels, I feel that stories are juxtaposed together deliberately. It must be, to my way of thinking, significant that the next story we hear in this passage is Jesus’ visit to the Temple. The Romans indeed are oppressive, especially (as we have read) in terms of taxation imposed upon the people, a deeply unpopular practice. But upon entering the Temple, the buying and selling of the animals for sacrifice, although regulated by Law, is something Jesus finds oppressive to those who must pay, and cannot necessarily afford the better sacrifice because they don’t have the means. It’s important symbolism to understand that the money-changers exchange Roman coin (unacceptable because of Caesar’s image printed on the coins) for Temple currency. So, we have a poetic reversal, again, of the notion of oppression and what it means to be a deliverer or a king of the people. We must put first things first. Jesus says here – at least to my mind – that the children of Abraham are also oppressed within the Temple practices. It’s not only the Romans who are behaving as robbers (as indeed Barabbas himself was – not unusual even for relatively modern day heroes of revolutions against foreign powers in many countries). The people are not being taught their true inheritance; they stand as equals before God. But the practices Jesus objects to in the Temple don’t teach this. ‘It is written,“My house shall be a house of prayer;” but you have made it a den of robbers.’ Lest my readers believe I’m voicing a complacency with who we are today, let me say I don’t believe the Church is free enough from the same conditions we find in our world to ever relax an important vigilance regarding this same notion. We should never be judged by material measure but by what is in our hearts – the full nature of which is known only to the ultimate Judge. We know that we stand as equals before that Judge, and we worship as equals. Repeatedly, Luke stresses the importance of just dealings with one another - and this is one more instance.

Jesus’ teachings in the Temple apparently find much favor with the people – and little wonder, to my mind. He’s speaking truths I imagine most would be afraid to utter: neither a jingoistic nationalism nor a meek complacency with the structures of power in the community. A revolutionary hero indeed, but one who tells truths about spiritual reality – the place where we begin, in my opinion, for true peace and justice. We are told that those whose power he has threatened are looking for a way to kill him, but have not yet found the opening to do so.

We must remember that Jesus wept. He knows what is coming; he can see what is being set into motion. A rejection of spiritual reality is not something that passes without consequences. This is once again, a continuation of the idea which I call “Christian karma” – “the kingdom of God has come near to you,” the Seventy were taught to say to all. How we respond to that reality will determine the conditions in our lives with which we may have to grapple and from which we may need to learn. It is in the same vein that Jesus pronounced that “all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.” (Matthew 12:31) When we pray for peace, do we remember “the things that make for peace,” above? How long does the world suffer? All I can do is try to choose the best I can as an individual to embrace and extend these things that make for peace. That much, at least, is up to me.

Nevertheless when the Son of man comes, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8)

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