Homily for Thursday of the 33rd Week in OT, 18November 2021, Luke 19:41-44
If you had the special gift of seeing the future before it actually happens, what would you do with it? If you had known through this special gift that a disaster was about to occur, and it could be prevented, what would you do about it?
In our Gospel today, Jesus is speaking like a prophet pronouncing an oracle about the future. It is one of the few passages where we hear about him weeping. What is he weeping about? About a terrible disaster that would actually take place around 37 years later—the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD.
Listen to how Jesus describes what he is seeing in the future, according to St. Luke: “Your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you…”
If you have been to the Holy Land and you have had the chance of visiting Jerusalem, part of your trip would have included a visit of a tear-shaped Church called DOMINUS FLEVIT, Latin for “The Lord wept.”
If you sit inside that Church and look out from its window, you will see a perfect view of the so-called Dome of the Rock, the exact location of the ancient temple, and the rest of the old city of Jerusalem. You can close your eyes and let the words of Jesus play like a video, anticipating by almost four decades the tragic events that would lead to the destruction of the temple, the city and its walls, by the Romans.
Why is Jesus weeping? Because he could not stop it from happening. He could not prevent his own people from taking the path that would lead to their doom. He says this is bound to happen anyway “…because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
The coming of a prophet was otherwise called “the Lord’s visitation.” Unfortunately, they often realized that they had been visited by the Lord through a prophet after the oracle of that prophet had been fulfilled. They would look back and say, “We have been told that this was bound to happen. We had been warned by the prophet but we did not listen. We even took part in ridiculing the prophet as a mad man. Not only did we take offense at his words, we even put him to death in order to silence him. And now the destruction that he had predicted and tried to prevent is upon us. We have no one to blame for it but ourselves.”
In the Gospel of Matthew, instead of just describing Jesus as weeping over Jerusalem, the evangelist puts a word of lament in the mouth of Jesus. In Matthew 23:37 he says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling!”
It is Matthew who makes me realize that it is actually what Jesus knows about the past that makes him see the future. We have often mistaken prophecy as fortune-telling, as predicting or foretelling what is about to happen before it actually happens. No doubt, the foretelling is part of it. But the lament of Jesus makes it obvious that it is his awareness of past history that gives him an inkling about the future. He is actually lamenting that the present generation has such a short memory and is doomed to repeat history. You could feel that when he says, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace, but now it is hidden from your eyes.” This is his way of denouncing the city called YERUSHALAYIM, meaning, “City of Peace”, that will never experience peace because of its forgetfulness of the past.
The French have a word for the past repeating itself in the present. They call it DÉJÀ VU—it’s like we’ve been there and seen it all, just as it’s happening. When the destruction of Jerusalem actually happened in 70AD, I imagine the Jews saying, this is exactly what happened to us in 586 BC in the hands of the Babylonians.
In the age of digital technology, I suggest that our historians translate our history books into videos that our non-reading present generation should watch. But there would not even be any need for that if only we found the time to do the storytelling ourselves—the way my own parents and grandparents told us about the Japanese occupation over and over again.
Now, history is being revised and woven like a fiction story about an ideal society that never was and an ideal leader that never existed. And when tyranny makes a come-back, we have no one to blame but ourselves. No, please, let us not make the Lord weep again; there is still something that we can do to avoid a tragic repetition of history.