Today’s passage from Luke 13:31-35 has a lot going on in just a few verses: Pharisees acting out of character; surprising animal imagery; a female metaphor for Jesus; lament and indignation; darkness and hope. At the center of it all, is Jerusalem, where Jesus was dedicated at the Temple as a tiny infant, and died just outside its walls, to which he made many Passover journeys. On one such trip, he leaves his parents and decides to stay behind at the Temple, as he first begins to discern his mission, and on the last trip - he fulfills this mission, his body and soul torn by death, as the curtain of the Temple was. In fact, the whole of Luke’s Gospel can be read as one “journey to Jerusalem” – i.e. an exodus from bondage to freedom through sacrifice – to which Luke alone refers 90 times, while the entire NT - only 50 times. Luke’s Transfiguration account, which we read a couple of weeks ago on the Sunday before Lent, concludes with, “as the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus ‘set his face’ to go to Jerusalem”.
Do you have a peculiar attachment or affection for some place? The one which formed you, perhaps; to which you’re tied by memories, special people, things you’ve learned, careers unfolding, decisions made, children born, communities to which you belonged? Somewhere you’d call your “spiritual home”? I wonder if for Jesus, Jerusalem was such a home – a place where he was neither born or grown up, or even spent too much time in, but around which his entire life circled; to which he was irresistibly drawn, for better or for worse. A fitting place for him, since in the scriptures, Jerusalem symbolizes the entire Jewish nation, and its Temple – the deepest place where God resides.
Last week, we read that the devil tempted Jesus to misuse God’s authority while on earth. One such test involved giving him a vision of the city of Jerusalem, as seen from its highest point (some say about 50m): the pinnacle of the Temple. This was likely the south-western junction of its walls that formed the busiest street corner in the city, where the trumpets would be sounded at festal times. From this vantage point, Jesus could behold the full grandeur of the city, and do anything he wanted – or so he was told. Did the temptation lie in revealing himself prematurely as the Messiah, since in the Jewish tradition the Temple’s pinnacle was, in fact, the place where the Messiah was supposed to appear? Yet, he resisted the temptation to win with a cheap trick. He remembered what happened to the prophets who came before him, and he must not have been fooled by the exuberance of praise with which he was greeted in Jerusalem, only to be crucified a few days later. As such, Jesus’ love for Jerusalem was rather unsentimental, with room for passion and indignation: “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!”
Might Jerusalem here stand as a metaphor for each human heart – as God’s home on earth? The heart which has the potential, at times, to “bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Ps 118), or to betray, crucify, and push him outside the walls surrounding our souls. For such our hearts, God has infinite love and care, even as he sees that we are unwilling to be loved. So, the journey that God takes to our hearts is as indirect as Jesus’ way to Jerusalem: stopping in Galilee and venturing into Samaria; north to south, across the lakes and rivers, mountains and plains… Here’s a blind man, there’s a leper; a lawyer has a question; people gather to hear a parable, to witness the miracles, healings, and casting out demons… Maybe, these interruptions in the journey were, in fact, its purpose? Bit by bit, one interaction at a time, God wins us over by perseverance, rather than by stunning displays of power – a Holy Mother, who shakes her head and laments our ways, yet longs to gather us under her protective wings.
Thereby, it is in our hearts that God finds a home on earth. As for our temples made by human hands, Jesus tells the Pharisees in our passage, “your house is left to you”. Yet, we all wish for and have our special places that serve as glimpses of God’s home in heaven. One of the most memorable bible verses reflects this desire this way: “One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple” (Ps 27:4). So, again, where is your spiritual home? Is it tied to a specific place – a city, a house, a church, a natural space? Or is it more of a state, rather than a place? As William Blake wrote, it is, indeed, possible to “build Jerusalem” anywhere on earth.
Of course, our “Jerusalem” is rarely a place of perfect safety, where angels are ready to catch us on their wings. Neither is “beholding the beauty of the Lord” a passive state. No; Jerusalem is the place where the job gets “finished”, and where we work out our ambivalences and contradictions, discern our purpose, make our salvation our own. But, every time we stop along the way to teach, heal, test spirits, cross boundaries, and give and receive warnings, we imitate what we know about God from the story of Jesus, and create a better home on earth for someone else and ourselves. Thanks be to God the Holy Spirit for being our traveling guide and companion. Amen.