I often look up at a picture I have on the wall of my bedroom. The picture is both calming and inspirational, but also challenges me. It is of Christ sitting on the Mount of Olives gazing across the Kidron Valley towards Jerusalem. As described in Both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus gazes across at Jerusalem with deep sadness and weeps for the people of the city. Throughout its long and turbulent history the people have largely refused the loving presence of God and have rejected His prophets who brought the word of salvation to them. They have now rejected Christ and His message that they are the beloved children of God who are invited to live in peace with Him. Jesus says that Just as a mother hen lovingly protects her young chicks, gathering them under her wings, so too does He long to do the same for them. But they have refused His invitation. He is not angry or judgmental, just sad and wistful. He knows how difficult their lives are what pain and suffering this refusal of love will bring into their lives.
Like Our Lord we too must look upon the city with great tenderness and allow our hearts to be moved with compassionate love for those who dwell in the city. If for no other reason, we must love the people of the city because Christ Himself loves them. And there are many other good reasons – our shared humanity, a desire to alleviate their spiritual and emotional suffering, wanting them also to know the joy of a life redeemed. Christ looked upon the city of Jerusalem and saw in its crowded streets and markets and dwellings a people who were lost and afraid and lonely. He also saw a people who had rejected God and the things of God – the money-grabbers, the prostitutes and their clients, the murderers, thieves and swindlers. He saw the religious hypocrites and the immoral leaders, the cruel masters and the power-hungry….. and He loved them. He gazed across at the city and he also saw the struggling poor, the rejected, the victims of an uncaring society, the sick and the disabled, the humble hard-working labourers, the anawim… and He loved them. He wanted them all to know that they are deeply loved by the Father and are all called into a new way of being and living. He wanted them to recognise that they lives they lived were so often at odds with their dignity as children of the Father. He had challenged them to know the truth of who they were before God and invited them to call God Father, and to treat each other as brothers and sisters. He had called them and would continue to call them to repentance and to recognise the message of peace that he announces. He laments and He weeps at their blindness and stubbornness, precisely because He loves them, and knows that their rejection of Him would bring sadness and pain into their lives. He laments and He weeps because they have been offered the gift of eternal life, and yet they still choose to follow their own proud and stubborn hearts, or to wallow helplessly in their own anguish.
We who follow Christ cannot remain indifferent to the people of the city. We cannot stand in judgment of them or see their lives as being irrelevant to our commitments. We cannot react to the world’s failure to recognise the God of love and truth with a self-righteous opposition. Life is difficult – and perhaps even more so for those who live in the concrete and steel confines of our world’s cities. The poor, the struggling, the young families and even the affluent urban dwellers all face the daily struggle of trying to make a living and make life meaningful within the complexities and confusions of modern city life. Many struggle with the burdens of everyday living and with the challenges of relationships and societal interaction – they’re doing their best. They are well-intentioned and good people so often subject to the pressures and stresses of modern life. Our task is not to judge or criticise, but to enter into their realities with empathy and to stand alongside them in genuine solidarity. Our understanding and love encourages others, and our compassion and service proclaim the love of Christ, while our indifference and exclusion proclaim our pride and self-absorption.
We must be careful not to fall into the tempting trap of allowing the world to determine our response to the world. We so easily allow the attitude and response of the world to us to determine how we respond and relate to the world. Today, in a world both indifferent and hostile to the proclamation of the Gospel we must not be tempted to react to the world by retreating into a cultural fortress from within which stand in hostile judgment of the world. This would be to take our cue from the world rather than from our tradition. It is tempting to regularly bemoan the blasphemy of the world and to focus our time and energies on an incessant cataloguing of its evils. To do so would be to let the attitude of the world, rather than the life and teachings of Christ determine our mission to the world. We are challenged by Christ’s commission and His example to courageously reach out in loving service to the very people who reject us and our message. Like Christ we must allow our hearts to be broken with love for the people of our cities, even when their hearts are hardened against us. Our response to the world should emerge from contemplative hearts free from insecurity and resentment – from hearts filled with gratitude and rejoicing in God’s abiding presence in the world. Our response should be formed by the life and teaching of Christ, who when faced with the indifferent hostility of Jerusalem, did not turn His face from its inhabitants, but chose out of love for them to be led by them from that city to another hilltop outside that city to suffer and to die for them… that they might finally believe that they and we are beloved children of the Father, endowed with a worth beyond measure and destined for the joy of an eternal life beyond imagining.