As Jesus drew near Jerusalem, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If this day you only knew what makes for peace– but now it is hidden from your eyes” (Lk 19:42).
What Jesus foretold in these words would arrive some thirty years after his death. Jewish and Roman conflicts increased until it spilled over in 66 AD. A Jewish rebellion amassed such force that the Roman occupying military was pushed out of Jerusalem. This triggered an overpowering response from Rome which would result in the horrific deaths of over a million Jewish people, Jerusalem fell in August of 70 AD, and the Temple was destroyed. The only remnant was some of the retaining walls, the western retaining wall, is still present today and often called the Wailing Wall.
Jesus knew that peace would not come from violence. We can glean from his teachings that peace is not just the absence of war, but a change of mind and heart. A metanoia or conversion, a change of mind must take place, for there must be peace within before than can be peace without.
The words of Jesus from today’s Gospel ring just as true today: ”If this day you only knew what makes for peace– but now it is hidden from your eyes.” If Jesus walked across the northeast border of Israel into Syria, he would witness the horrific violence and devastation as far as the eye could see. Yet, is there anywhere he could walk and not experience violations of human dignity? I am sure he would weep as he approached the US border from the south and entered the detention centers or walked among the dead who lost their lives from our rampant epidemic of gun violence.
How about even a little bit closer to home? If Jesus were approaching the border of our mind and heart, how would he react? Would he smile or would he weep?
Some also wept and took the teachings of Jesus to heart and applied them in our present age. Mohandas K. Gandhi marshaled a non-violent movement that defeated the oppressive English Empire. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. applied both the teachings of Jesus and Gandhi shining a light that exposed the dark night of segregation and our military presence in Vietnam. Through the bold witness and preaching of the Gospel through his words, writings, and presence, Pope St. John Paul II played his part in inspiring the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union.
There are so many other people throughout our world history known and unknown that have worked for peace in our violent and weary world. As we near the end of the liturgical calendar and as we celebrate the memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us dedicate ourselves today to welcoming the love of Jesus to transform our hearts and minds such that each of our thoughts, words, and actions will promote that peace that Jesus gives, that peace that surpasses all understanding (cf Philippians 4:6-7).
Fr. Thomas Merton with the Dalai Lama, 1968 – photo credit – CNS/Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University