Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost-13 July AD 2008
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! If only thou hadst known....”

Roman Triumphal arch panel copy from Beth Hatefutsoth, showing spoils of Jerusalem Temple [2]

[Ordinary of the Mass]
[English Text]
[Latin Text]

    To Jesus’ followers and His antagonists alike, Jerusalem was not just another city. To fully understand the impact of today’s Gospel about the destruction of Jerusalem, one has to go back to the very beginning of the Old Testament.

    You probably recall the story of Abraham, the father of the Jewish race. He and his wife Sara were on in years, and she had never been able to bear him a child. As she approached old age she gave her servant-girl, Agar, to him and Agar brought forth Ishmael-but still, Abraham and Sara longed for a child of their own. And God heard their prayer and gave them a son named Isaac, for whom they were very thankful to God. But when the boy was a few year old, God put Abraham through a test of his loyalty and obedience. He directed Abraham to take Isaac to a plaice called Moria, and there, on a hill top, to offer up Isaac as a holocaust to be completely consumed by fire. Human sacrifice was completely unknown among the Jews, and certainly no one could be asked to offer his only son. Abraham followed God’s instructions, but God stopped him before the terrible deed could be done, and a ram was offered in Isaac’s place.[3]

    As God promised, Abraham became the father of a great nation. Abraham, begot Isaac, who begot Jacob, who begot Joseph. The story of Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery in Egypt begins 400 years of the captivity of Abraham’s descendents in that foreign land-a captivity that would last until the Passover and the Exodus under Moses, the Lawgiver (c. 1440 BC). God joined the Jewish people with His miraculous Presence which has been given the name “Sheckinah” (הניכש), a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night. But the people were not always faithful, as saint Paul tells us in this morning’s epistle, and God punished them accordingly.[4]

    It was yet another 400 years before the Presence of God would rest in the Holy of Holies on that same hill of Moria in the city we now know as Jerusalem (c. 950 BC).[5] On the day of the Temple’s dedication, the Ark of the Covenant was brought in, and “the house of God was filled with a cloud.... The glory of the Lord had filled the house of God.”[6]

    But in another 400 years or so, (between 597 and 581 BC) the Jews were taken into captivity by the Babylonians, and the Temple, the house of God on Earth was despoiled and then destroyed.[7]

    The prophets Jeremia and and Ezechiel describe this deportation and destruction as God’s punishment for the infidelity of His people. In horror Ezechiel describes God’s exit from the Temple: “The glory of the Lord left the threshold of the Temple and rested upon the cherubim [and] these lifted their wings and I saw them rise from the earth.... and the glory of the Lord rose from the city.”[8]

    The Persians would conquer the Babylonians, and the Persian King Cyrus would free the Jews, and the Temple would be rebuilt-but roughly 70 years would pass, and most of those who had seen the old Temple would be dead before they could see the new. Ezechiel prophesied the event when the divine Presence would return: “I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east.... the spirit lifted me up and brought me to the inner court. And I saw that the Temple was filled with the glory of the Lord.” Ezechiel goes on to say that God expected the people, in return, to put their harlotry and murder far from Him in return.[9]

    But again the people departed from the ways of God. Jerusalem was invaded by the successor kingdoms to Alexander the Great, and many of the people abandoned the Law of Moses. Ultimately, as we read in the Book of Machabees, the Selucid King Antiochus IV sacked the Temple, forced the people to eat the unclean flesh of swine, and set up a statue of Jupiter Olympius on the altar.[10]  Eventually, the Machabees recovered the ruined Temple, but it wasn’t until the time of Herod the Great that the Temple was refurbished to the state in which our Lord saw it.

    To the religious Jews at the time of Christ, the Temple was a wonderful thing. It linked them to their past, reminding them of God’s unfailing goodness, in spite of their repeated unfaithfulness. It was the focal point of Jewish worship, as three times a year people would come from all of Israel and Judea and beyond for the major festivals, swelling the population of Jerusalem several times over. But most of all, it was the place where they could sit in the morning sunlight or the afternoon shade and be no more than a few yards from the Presence of God Himself-the chamber where the high priest could enter each year to present their sacrifice on the Day of Atonement.

    It was this Temple in which Jesus worshipped with Mary and Joseph on the great feasts. It was this Temple from which Jesus drove the money-changers. It was this Temple which Jesus saw on the road from Jericho through Bethany, and began to weep.

    He wept because He knew that this time the infidelity of the people would cause them to disown their very God to the Roman conquerors. This time an only Son would be sacrificed. This time the divine Presence would depart from the Temple, never to return. As God He knew that in a few short years after His crucifixion, in 70 AD, under the Emperor Vespasian, the Empror’s son Titus Flavius would sack Jerusalem and leave the Temple in ruins, leaving almost literally no stone standing upon another. The mad Emperor Caligula would try to place a statue of himself to be worshipped as Jupiter on the Temple grounds. For well over a thousand years the Temple site has become a Moslem holy place-the Dome of the Rock, from which Mohammed claimed to ascend-in order to tour heaven with the Angel Gabriel. For all of this, Jesus wept.

    Jesus wept, and perhaps we can weep with Him. Every once in a while we ought to give some thought to what His crucifixion must have been like-what it must have been like when God offered His only Son in Sacrifice for our sins. If that brings no tears, you might consider what it must have been like for the humble woman Mary of Nazareth to give her only Son for the same purpose.

    Pope Gregory the Great suggests we meditate on the destruction of Jerusalem in preparation for our death-that we should not meet our end as so many people do, unprepared.[11]  The vast majority of the residents of Jerusalem took no heed of the warning given by Jesus Christ. Quite likely they thought Jerusalem would last forever-that God would ignore every infidelity, and that all difficulties would be temporary, as they had been in the past. Pope Gregory asks us to weigh the very short lived pleasures of a life lived without God on earth, in comparison with the unending trials of a life without God in eternity.

    Finally, I would like to suggest to you that our humble little church is even more majestic than the Temple in Jerusalem. For we still have the divine Presence in His tabernacle on the altar-a Presence we can approach even more closely than the Jewish people or even their high priest. Many of the Jews drew complacent-“the Temple will always be there,” they thought, “we can go next week, or next Passover.” We live in a world at least as uncertain as Roman Palestine. The time to spend our days in frequent union with God in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is now. The time to drive the demons out of the temple of our soul is now. And together with the Great Pope Gregory, we all know that the time to prepare for our final days is now.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem! If only thou hadst known....”


[1]   Cf. Gospel:  Luke xix: 41-47.


[3]   Genesis xviii-xxii.

[4]   Epistle:  1 Corinthians x: 6-13.

[5]   2 Paralipomenon iii: 1.

[6]   2 Paralipomenon v: 14.


[8]   Ezechiel x: 18-23.

[9]   Ezechiel xliii: 1-9.

[10]   1 Machabees i.

[11]   Homily XXXIX On the Gospels.  Given in the Constantine Basilica of Saint John.





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