Ninth Sunday after
Pentecost—29 July AD 2007
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! If only you had known in this day, the things
that are for your peace.”
To understand the scripture reading this morning
(particularly the Epistle) you have to know a little about God’s involvement
with His people in the Old Testament. We know that, in the Book of
Genesis, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation.
The book goes on, tracing the descendants of Abraham, through Isaac, Jacob, and
Joseph. You will recall that Joseph died in Egypt after a distinguished
career in the service of the Egyptian king. “Pharo” as he was called.
But after Joseph’s death, the descendants of Abraham suffered the bad fortune
of being reduced to slavery, and would remain in bondage for several hundred
But God was ever mindful of His promise to Abraham, and
resolved to lead His people out of Egypt to a land on the other side of the
Sinai desert, to the north east, which would be a very prosperous place
agriculturally, “flowing with milk and honey.” God was very good to
His people, seeing to their well-being and prosperity—but, in return, they
were often unfaithful to God. There was a constant grumbling as they made
the trip across the wilderness. God provided manna (a sort of bread that
seemed to fall from heaven) and quail for them to eat, but many complained about
the food. Some made concubines of the foreign women they met.
Some made a golden calf, which they worshipped as an idol, amid loud music and
Some planned revolt and were struck down by the Lord.
Saint Paul alludes to God sending serpents to kill many who grumbled against
Some wanted to return to slavery in Egypt, because the food was better there!
They were prepared to abandon freedom for “cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions,
The forty year trip consisted of one infidelity after another, but God, in His
goodness, brought their children into the promised land.
If this Exodus from Egypt was the primary historical event
of the Jewish people, about 700 years later, their exile in Babylon has to be
the second most important event. The Prophets tell us that, once again,
God had become enraged by the infidelity of His people: their disobedience
of His Commandments, their mingling with foreign people, and their worshipping
of the false gods of the nations.
Ezechiel tells us that God withdrew His divine Presence from the Temple.
The Chaldeans burnt the Temple, destroyed Jerusalem, and carried the people into
Only after seventy years of captivity did Darius, the king of Persia, allow
their return and the rebuilding of the Temple.
A third scourge came in the form of the generals of the
dead Alexander the Great, who divided his kingdom and fought back and forth
across the promised land, for it was the bridge between north Africa and
southern Asia. The Temple was profaned and fell into disrepair until the
Machabees were successful in retaking Jerusalem.
The Jewish festival of Chanukah commemorates the rededication, and the
miraculous burning of the sanctuary lamp for eight days on one day’s supply of
The Temple in which we find our Lord in today’s Gospel
was this same (second) Temple, but it had been lavishly re-built, expanded, and
furnished by King Herod the Great around 19 BC.
Before entering the Temple, our Lord cried over the city of Jerusalem and
predicted its destruction once again. “They will not leave one stone
upon another”—meaning, of course that the city and the Temple would be
utterly destroyed—an event which came to pass less than forty years later when
the Romans crushed the Jewish rebellion.
This time the infidelity seems to be two fold. The
most sacred building then in the world had become a place of crass
commercialization. People were buying and selling as though it were a
market place. People were exchanging money as though it were a bank.
“My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You kill the prophets and stone those that are
sent to you.”
Most importantly, Jesus Christ, the Messiah sent to the
Jews, had just made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, to the wild acclamation
of the crowds. “They spread their cloaks upon the road” and waved
branches of palm and olive: “Blessed is He who comes as king, in the
name of the Lord!”
This very same crowd would be calling for His crucifixion by the end of the same
week. They would demand the crucifixion of the Son of God as though He
were a common thief. Even before the Romans would destroy the Temple in AD 70,
the veil of the Holy of Holies would be torn from the top down, and the sacred
Presence would be gone forever.
What can we learn from these events? The pattern is
awfully clear. First, God does something great for His people—Second,
they turn away from Him to seek their own gratification. It happened time,
and time again. We would be seriously mistaken, though, to say that this
pattern was characteristic only of the people of the Old Testament—as though
Catholics had no such faults! We are the New Jerusalem!
God seems to be infinitely forgiving, but it would be
sinful to continuously presume on His mercy while living a life apart from Him.
There is also a theme of chastisement. Some “perished at the
serpents”; some were exiled, never to see home again; some felt
the lash of an angry Lord driving them out; some saw their city utterly
destroyed, with “not a stone standing upon a stone” almost literally.
Very seriously, we ought to consider our own selves in this
light. God has given us the True Faith, and placed us in a land of great
prosperity among the nations of the world. Do we respond with gratitude or
with grumbling? Do we allow God to make us over in His image, or do we
seek to conform to the ways of the world? Are we faithful, or are we
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! If only you had known in
this day, the things that are for your peace.”