And as Jesus approached, he saw the city. He wept over it. He said, “If you—even you—had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
The words of Jesus to the people as he enters Jerusalem, at what the gospel of Luke terms “the time of their visitation,” are strikingly poignant for our and every time and age. “If we but knew the things that make for peace,” how different might our life and world be? It is Jesus’ coming that brings with it the possibility of peace; yet, on the other hand, it is our refusal to recognize that coming that leads to violence and disaster.
Last weekend we attended liturgy at a local parish. The readings from Daniel and Mark were an invitation, in this case a temptation, for apocalyptic preaching. Certainly a good-willed person, the homilist began to interpret, from a certain perspective, current events as signs of the last times as scripturally foretold. The question of poor exegesis aside, the preacher fell into a trap that awaits all of us and that is the great danger of apocalyptic thinking. It is the presumption that from a certain cultural, political, and religious point of view we are able to interpret the signs of God’s imminent “visitation.” The arrogance of such a position inevitably leads to violence, because in it we arrogate to ourselves the responsibility to act socially and politically in the light of our interpretations. We think, from this perspective, that it is our duty to force others, even violently, to submit to this understanding and interpretation for their own good or salvation. This, in its extreme form, is what we see in the demonic actions of ISIS. When human beings arrogate to themselves the Divine perspective, barbarism inevitably ensues.
With the ever-present danger that the apocalyptic perspective brings, what is Jesus actually asking of us in today’s gospel. In the account of Jesus’ transfiguration in Matthew and Mark, the gospel writers tell us that the disciples, after falling down and hiding their faces in fear, are approached and touched by Jesus. But at this moment, Moses and Elijah have disappeared and “they saw no one except Jesus alone” (Matthew 17:8). It is in faith, and hope, and love alone that we recognize the time of our visitation. As Pope Francis has said, God is not a Catholic. God’s coming will not be in any of the constricted forms that our limited and weak comprehensions would impose on God. God is God of all, not of some. When the extraordinary epiphany of God’s presence on the mountain ends, one that comes with all the manifestations of the tradition in which Peter, James, and John have been formed, there remains “no one except Jesus alone.” As “Jesus alone” approaches and touches them, God is visiting them as truly as when Jesus’ face shines like the sun, when Moses and Elijah appear with him, and when God’s voice resounds as the thunder.
We do not know the day or the hour of God’s visitation, but we can stand ready for it by emptying ourselves of our certitude and arrogance and patiently waiting in faith, hope, and love for the peace and love of God that is always being offered to us.
I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that You have created Your image in me, so that I may remember You, think of You, love You. But this image is so effaced and worn away by vice, so darkened by the smoke of sin, that it cannot do what it was made to do unless You renew it and reform it. I do not try, Lord, to attain Your lofty heights, because my understanding is in no way equal to it. But I do desire to understand Your truth a little, that truth that my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand. For I believe this also that unless I believe, I shall not understand.
St. Anselm, Proslogion