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 a predictable and 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, still present today, is 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 of the mind must take place. There must be peace within before there will be peace without or as Thomas Merton wrote, “If you are yourself at peace, then there is at least some peace in the world.”
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 weeps as he approaches the US border from the south or walks 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?
Others have wept at the disharmony, dehumanization, and division in our world. Mohandas K. Gandhi marshaled a non-violent movement that defeated the colonizing grip of the English Empire. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. applied both the teachings of Jesus and Gandhi by shining a light that exposed the dark night of segregation, poverty, and our military presence in Vietnam. Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, has dedicated his life to advocating for world peace and has stated that: “If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”
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 the oppressive regime of the USSR. So many others throughout our world history known and unknown have worked for peace in our violent and weary world. As we near the end of the liturgical calendar let us allow the love of Jesus to transform our hearts and minds such that each of our thoughts, words, and actions may, in collaboration with people of other faith traditions and good will, reflect that peace that Jesus gives, that peace that surpasses all understanding (cf Philippians 4:6-7).