Father Donald Senior CP

July 7: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The new Jerusalem

Is 66:10-14c; Ps 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20; Gal 6:14-18; Lk 10:1-12, 17-20

I count it as a special and unearned blessing that I have been to Jerusalem at least once every year for the past 45 years or so. My work as a professor of Scripture led me to study in the Holy Land and I have delighted in bringing other people there ever since. 

Jerusalem is an exceptionally beautiful city. Despite its present-day population of more than 800,000 (Jerusalem at the time of Jesus was a fraction of that), it is built on a series of hills and there is still much greenery and an abundance of flowers in the spring. It is, of course, loaded with history from the biblical times to the present. 

King David established Jerusalem, making it the location of his royal palace. He also brought the Ark of the Covenant to the city, laying the foundation for the temple, and thereby forging Jerusalem as both the political and religious heart of Judaism. Yet, as everyone knows, Jerusalem remains a tense city, the convergence point of three world religions, and perhaps the greatest challenge to finding a lasting peace between Palestine and Israel.

I muse on Jerusalem because our readings this Sunday begin with Isaiah’s beautiful hymn of praise for Jerusalem and a longing for its peace. “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her; exult, exult with her all you who were mourning over her.”

The prophet draws on images of tenderness and love in describing the new Jerusalem: “Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river.” The Israelites will feel in this city the effects of God’s abundant love for them: “As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.”

Certainly for Judaism and Christianity, the idea of Jerusalem represents the longed-for place of ultimate peace, beauty and human thriving, a symbol of absolute hope. The New Testament concludes with the Book of Revelation and its vision of the “new Jerusalem” coming down from heaven and taking its place on earth. It is a city shining with beauty, where the sun never sets and where God “wipes away every tear” and “there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”

These biblical visions of “Jerusalem” as the fulfillment of our ultimate hopes for peace might be considered by some as pure “pie in the sky,” full of utopian longings that have no foundation in reality. But the Bible does not indulge in pure fantasy. The creation of true peace is longed for against a realistic assessment of human frailty and the seduction of evil and violence that is all around us.

Lasting peace is God’s work, not a human achievement. For example, in the second reading for this Sunday from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the apostle speaks with confidence of the “new creation” at the same time reminding his Christians of Christ’s crucifixion, and confesses that he “bears the marks of Jesus on my body” (most probably the scars from his being flogged in the course of his mission). Paul knew the power of evil but was also convinced that God’s ability to transform hatred and violence was more powerful than death.

The selection for today from Jesus’ mission discourse in Luke’s Gospel has a similar tone and holds tenaciously to hope while being open-eyed about the power of evil. Jesus warns his disciples, “I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” But despite opposition and rejection, the message that God’s “kingdom is at hand” will be proclaimed to the world.

Our Scriptures this Sunday invite us to be both realistic and hopeful. They make us aware of the presence of pain and evil in our world while not letting these assaults on human dignity eclipse our sense of trust in God and our hope for the world.

Refusing to slide into full pessimism about human destiny has been a hallmark of Catholic tradition.




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