Love's Lament

St. Luke 19:41-48, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11

by The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse

Trinity Season 2007

In his moving book, To End All Wars, Captain Ernest Gordon, a survivor of the Japanese Prisoner of War death camps in Thailand, told a story of how the Gospel command to love one’s enemies became a reality to him and his men near the end of the war. They had come across some wounded Japanese soldiers abandoned by their own and left without medical care. He wrote: “Without a word, most of the officers in my section unbuckled their packs, took out part of their ration and a rag or two, and, with water canteens in their hands went over to the Japanese train to help them.”

Their guards tried to prevent them, saying that the wounded were no good. Even an allied officer from another section reprimanded them. “Don’t you realize that those are the enemy?” he said. When Captain Gordon reminded the man about the parable of the Good Samaritan, the officer protested angrily, “But that’s different! That’s in the Bible. These are the swine who’ve starved us and beaten us. They’ve murdered our comrades. These are our enemies.”

Tragically, the Allied Officer’s words reflect the thoughts of many Christians today. That is different. That is the Bible. This is reality. In our Gospel lesson for today, we read, “Now as (Jesus) drew near, he saw the city and wept over it.” It is possible that the very familiarity of the passage has taken the punch out of this simple statement, but let us reflect on it for but a moment.

Within a few days, this very same city would turn on the One whose eyes were now flooded with tears for them, and he knew that. They would falsely accuse him, they would falsely try him, they would mercilessly beat him, they would hand him over to their despised overlords and demand the death sentence by crucifixion. Oh, what hatred; what savage brutality. And yet, as he hung on the cross overlooking that same city, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

But that is different. That is the Bible. This is reality.

As our Lord stood overlooking Jerusalem, his tears seemed strangely out of place, even at the time. Around him, the crowds were rejoicing. “Blessed is the King Who comes in the Name of the Lord! Peace in Heaven and glory in the highest!” The praise and worship team was going wild; everyone was happy, happy, happy all the day, while our Lord stood weeping. These were not the tears of the patriot who contemplates his nation’s future collapse. These were tears of the One whose words and actions demonstrate most clearly the true meaning of love; these were tears that flowed from a heart yearning for the salvation of all mankind, even those who would revile, persecute and say all kinds of evil against him.

The Gospel passage provides us with three poignant portraits of love in action. The first is love’s lament expressed in grief; the second, love's lament expressed in judgment; and the third, love’s lament expressed in teaching.

I. Grief

As our Lord reached that point in the road where the glory of the Holy City suddenly broke into full view and he gave way to his deep emotional anguish, he stated, “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.”

The occasion for this statement of mourning was the spiritual ignorance of our Lord’s own people. Jerusalem, true to its name, might have known God’s peace and enjoyed his gracious favor and protection. As it was, the inhabitants were resting in the peace of a false security, vainly imagining (like their forefathers) that because of the Temple of the Lord in their midst they were immune from danger (cf. Jeremiah 7:4-15). As a consequence, there could be only one issue as far as Jerusalem was concerned: not peace but war. So the Lord foresaw and foretold the awful fate which was to overtake the unprepared and unrepentant city.

The prophetic words of our Lord in verses 43 and 44 were realized forty years later when the Roman armies under Vespasian and his son Titus besieged Jerusalem and finally laid it to waste in A.D. 70. Through unbelief and hardness of heart, the city missed their opportunity—their time of visitation—and were destroyed. Our Lord often visited his people with salvation throughout the Old Testament and likewise today he continues to extend his hand in a gesture of merciful reconciliation. But when that grace is rejected and his Word discarded, then judgment is inevitable.

II. Judgment

In the narrative regarding the cleansing of the Temple, the contrast between our weeping and mourning Lord and our indignant and violent Lord is almost jarring to us. But when we realize that the sad spiritual condition of the city was directly linked to the ungodly religiosity of the priesthood, then we begin to understand. “The state of affairs in Jerusalem reflected only too clearly the true moral and spiritual condition of the (whole) nation and showed how ripe it was for judgment. God’s (Own) house of prayer had become a robber’s den. Animals were being sold—at shamelessly high prices—for the Temple sacrifices. Gentile coinage was being converted into Jewish currency—at an exorbitant rate of exchange—for the Temple taxes.”

But here is a lesson to be learned. The state of the world will always reflect the state of the Church. If the Church deals corruptly, so will the world and we should not be surprised if we are later overcome by the same world we seem so eager to emulate. Our Lord not only spoke words of prophetic judgment over his stubborn people, but he also acted out that prophecy in the cleansing of the Temple. This was his solemn warning to the Temple authorities of the need for repentance and reform. Should the warning pass unheeded, the Temple, which no longer served its original purpose, would be cleansed permanently.

When the Church dares to make God’s house of prayer into a house of Man’s philosophies—when the Church dares to cast aside his infallible Word and embrace the fallible words of the world—when the Church dares to replace his holy law with man-made rules, either promiscuously permissive or legalistically prescriptive—then he will remove his Lampstand from her midst, leave her house desolate and write “Ichabod”—the glory has departed—over her doors. At such a time as this we, too, should be as angry as our Lord.

III. Teaching

However, the passage does not end on a note of gloom and doom, but rather on a note of hope. Our Lord continued to teach daily in the Temple. Unlike many in the modern Church who have given up on the world and have retreated into their holy huddles to await the rapture, our Lord stood in the very midst of the same people who would shortly cry out for his death and he lovingly taught them the Scriptures. His love did not end with words—his love was demonstrated in the most amazing, courageous and selfless manner.

Even in the face of the murderous plots against him, he showed them what the Temple really ought to have been—a place where the ignorant could find Truth—a place where the unadulterated Word of the Lord would sound forth to all God’s people, and then, through them, to the world.

As Captain Gordon washed the wounds of his enemies, he marveled at how he and his fellow POWs had been changed by the Gospel of Christ. A few months earlier, these same men would have gladly joined in the destruction of their captors, but in their mutual suffering they had experienced, what he called, “a moment of grace” and he wrote, “God had broken through the barriers of our prejudice and had given us the will to obey his command, ‘Thou shalt love’.”

He recalled the words of Jesus. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

But that is different. That is the Bible. This is reality.

Reason breaks through. “We have to be practical because we live in a practical world. It doesn’t pay to love—particularly your enemy.” But Faith replies, “True. One need but to look at the Cross to see this demonstrated. (It doesn’t pay to love—it costs us dearly—particularly if we choose to love our enemy.) But—there is no other way to love.” Love sheds tears over the doom of our enemies—love angrily reprimands those who should know better for leading the world further away from the Truth—love teaches even in the face of hostility and rejection.

God did not choose to take the easy way. He could have removed sinners from his creation with one word. However, he chose to send his Son in the form of a Man right into the midst of his enemies to pay for our crimes on the cross even while we were still his enemies.

Can we then—we who have been found by this loving God—we who have been called to imitate him and to walk even as he walked—can we not in turn find our brothers and sisters through this same kind of love—calling for them to imitate us and to walk even as we walk? Do we stand looking at the world, weeping for them as they blunder along in their lost state? Do we grieve over their eternal destiny enough to confront them with the Truth? Do we hold the Church accountable for her distortion of the Word? Do we use our god-given gifts for the benefit of all? Do we love as our Lord loved? Is Love’s Lament heard in our prayers for a lost and dying world?

We are about to come to Love’s Table to partake of that which ultimately demonstrates God’s kind of love. Here we see once more the tears flowing for a world he loved so much he was willing to die for it—here we hear once more the words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”—here we receive the command to love—love one another, even as I have loved you—love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.