Jerusalem, Jerusalem

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J_Kelley

Jerusalem is the ultimate city on a hill, intended to shine bright for the world to see. Her countenance radiates like a beacon, her strobes of light guiding the nations as they parade in and pray together. She’s the place of the Great Gathering–all tongues, all tribes, all nations.

Everyone gathers in Jerusalem, the new city. That is the dream of the prophets.

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Jesus hints at this Great Gathering when speaking in a small town with an unnamed man. He is asked, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” The thought in those days was only the blessed (you could tell by their riches) would avail themselves of salvation. But maybe there would be some stragglers around the edges–one might hope.

With a combination of parable and prophetic reference, Jesus reveals that the way in isn’t about numbers. He talks about the way in as a narrow door–hard to enter, but not impossible. Salvation will be determined by who shows compassion to the down and out. And we just might be surprised by who’s in and out, who’s first and last.

There is a mention of those coming from the east, west, north and south. The good Jewish folk crowded around Jesus would have deciphered the clue–he’s talking about the Great Gathering when everyone comes back to Jerusalem at long last. The picture is of bulging highways full of pilgrims, exiles returning from the Diaspora and all the nations flooding into the Temple to pray together. It’s not a mere few people Jesus envisions–it’s everyone!

But then Jesus pauses. It’s as if he’s caught up in the dreamscape, Jerusalem as a full and diverse house, and then remembers the present state of his beloved city.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” -Luke 13:34

It’s a lament for a wayward city that does not know how to move toward salvation, toward wholeness or toward the Great Gathering yet. The people still can’t accept the hard words of the prophets, words about melting swords into plowshares and making war no more, perhaps.

He longs to gather them. Like a hen pulling little ones close, bringing them in where they are sustained by his warm nurture and safe from what they fear when they are under his wing. “But,” he sighs, “you were not willing.” Some translations say, “But you resisted.” I think that gets to the heart of it quicker–they resisted his gathering.

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Jesus makes his way toward Jerusalem. When the city is finally in view, he stops. He weeps.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” his lament continues, “If you only knew what made for peace …” (Luke 19:41)

He mutters about more violence ahead for these people, a torrent of devastation he cannot now stop because they are so far down the road of war and other hostile strategies. “It could have been otherwise … my visitation could have changed everything,” he seemed to say.

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But in order to gather on the Temple Mount, we must know how to disarm our hostilities and divest of our hatreds. We must know something about how to make peace with those so different from us. Only then can God’s dream for the Great Gathering be realized among us on earth.

What makes for peace is different from what makes for war. I feel like I’m stating the obvious here, except I look around and see many folks the world over who act as if violence, weapons, torture techniques, beheadings and bombings are strategies that might make for peace. Our deft-handed defense departments haven’t figured out how to forge peace by such means yet. But I see women, children, returned soldiers, prisoners and refugees that are victims of violence.

What makes for war enhances our brokenness. What makes for peace restores wholeness, preserves what is most human; ushering us into a shalom which is a deep and comprehensive well-being which excludes no one, not even our enemies. Jesus wanted to teach us what made for peace, but we resisted.

I think he wants to teach us still. How to move from in-fighting to in-gathering, how to let go of weapons and favor farm tools. (It strikes me just now that relinquishing swords and refashioning them into plowshares would be to rewind history. We’d move from violence against our brother back to our original task of tending the earth, pulling us back into the orbit of original shalom.)

What if Jesus talks of gathering us young chicks under his maternal wing because he knows we are most open to his peacemaking ways when we are in a place of safety and a place of shared vulnerability? When our fears are quelled we can entertain the wild notion of enemy-love, unending forgiveness, boundary-breaking inclusion. Maybe true peacemaking wisdom can only be incubated when we are gathered together under his wing.

The question remains–why do we resist gathering? Why are we willing to stone the prophets but unwilling to gather under God’s wing? Maybe we don’t want to hear that the ways that seem normative to us, defending ourselves and nursing our prejudices, are ineffective. Maybe we are hesitant to see who else gathers under the wing of Jesus. Maybe we think we are beyond the need of a mother or any need of nurture. Maybe we’re afraid there will be too many or they’ll be too different and we like our idea of a select, similar few.

I imagine that when we can allow ourselves to be gathered under the wing of Jesus, there is some hope that we could learn his peacemaking ways. I imagine that when we are so gathered, there is hope we can enact the Great Gathering in Jerusalem someday.

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Image credit: Candace Fladager

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Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley is co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. She is also the author of Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World (Eerdmans).
Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley Nikondeha

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