The Mount of Olives has a history with tears. The Hebrew Scriptures tell us that King David climbed the Mount of Olives to grieve his son Absalom after he learned Absalom was leading a conspiracy to overthrow him.
As Jesus made his way to the Mount of Olives he would weep, too.
As He approached the Mount of Olives and saw the city, He wept over it, saying, “If you knew this day what would bring peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days will come on you when your enemies will build an embankment against you, surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you and your children within you to the ground, and they will not leave one stone on another in you, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.Luke 19:40-43
For thousands of years Jerusalem has executed prophet after prophet. They did not prefer the message of God’s reign of love and peace. They preferred nationalistic pride and greed. In the end all that was left were the tears of the prophets.
Now it’s Jesus’ turn to weep. Earlier in Jesus’ ministry we find many stories of tears. The widow at Nain weeps over her dead son. Jairus’ family weeps over a dying daughter. We find others in distress coming to Jesus for healing and new life. In each story Jesus meets them in their tears.
Beloved, Jesus will always meet us in our tears because our tears flow from all that is wrong with God’s good world. It is why we see Jesus in tears over the city of God’s people. I think it is easy to forget that Jesus’ tears are at the center of the Christian story.
Jesus weeping over the city was not a moment of regrettable weakness or fear. It was a moment of love, of vulnerability and heartache, because of what he knows what will happen to God’s people. Again and again during his ministry Jesus warns them, summoning them to God’s reign of love and peace. Like many of the towns Jesus visited along Galilee, they resisted.
“Unless you turn away from building your own little kingdoms and turn toward God’s kingdom,” Jesus would say, “you will perish.”
Here Jesus is, face to face with the city where Pilate had killed many Galileans, and would soon kill one more. Here he is about to face two different trials from two different powers: a religious trial led by Ciaphas and a political trial led by Pilate. Two powers–religion and politics–all promoting the same vices, fear-mongering, power-grabbing, and death.
We know from the gospel stories that where the Temple was once a holy place it was now a symbol of nationalistic pride and religious greed. The systems of religion and politics in Jesus’ day led his people far away from the love and peace God wanted them to experience.
No wonder Jesus weeps. No wonder Jesus must enter into the Temple and cleanse it of its pride and greed. No wonder Jesus must walk through a week of sorrow and suffering, a week like no other, a week set apart for all eternity, a Holy Week.
During Holy Week we must not forget Jesus’ tears.
During Holy Week we must not forget Jesus’ scandalous trials and cruel death.
During Holy Week we must not forget Jesus’ passion.
During Holy Week we must not forget Jesus was doing all of this for us so we could be rescued from captivity to fear and the death-dealing wounds of the reign of sin and death.
And during Holy Week we must not forget that if there is to be resurrection, there must be death, a particular kind of death for Jesus, and a particular kind of “death” for us.