“[Jesus] beheld the city, and wept over it, saying…’thou knewest not the time of thy visitation (Lk 19:44.)’”
In the fifth grade, a friend of mine learned a hard lesson about time and consequences in a home economics class. At the beginning of the school year, his teacher decided to teach his students about the value of money. The teacher invented a currency called “Skamoleans,” and instituted a system of academic rewards through which students could earn them. Students who got “A’s” on a project would earn a thousand Skamoleans, “B’s” would earn five-hundred Skamoleans, and so forth. The teacher also furnished a treasure-trove of small but fun toys which the students could buy with their hard-earned Skamoleans. These prizes ranged at the lower end from Pez Dispensers, Silly Putty Balls, and Frisbees to the higher end of Rubik’s cubes, Evil Knievel action figures, and Rock’em Sock’em Robots. At the very top of the prize scheme were the coveted Mattel Electronic Football games. As the year progressed, the students realized they could not only earn Skamoleans from their academic work, but also trade their Skamoleans and their prizes with each other. The year progressed, the students earned their Skamoleans, and they began to buy and trade toys with each other. Somehow, along he the way, my friend lost sight of the durable goods that the Skamoleans earned for him, and he became enamored with accruing as many Skamoleans as he could. Fall turned into Winter, and Winter turned into Spring, and as the Spring turned towards the summer, my friend realized that he could command higher and higher amounts of Skamoleans for the toys he had purchased. Finally, in the last week of the semester, he traded away the last of his toys and achieved his year-long goal: he became a Skamolean millionaire. But then came the moment of his ruin: school ended, and all his Skamoleans became worthless. While all his friends had toys they could play with throughout the summer, all my friend had were pieces of paper. He realized that he had traded the time and work of an entire school year for nothing. Had he known, before the end of the school year, that the Skamoleans he had accrued would soon be held to account, he might have tried to cash them in for something that would have lasted. Instead, he missed his opportunity to convert his time and effort into something lasting, and he reaped the consequences of his actions, which were nothing.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus approaches the city of Jerusalem for the last time. As He rides on a donkey over the Mount of Olives, He sees in a panoramic view the gleaming City of David, with the marble and golden Temple in the center, wreathed in incense, and He weeps. He does not weep for Himself; He does not weep because He knows He only has a week before He will be seized by the Temple guards, condemned by a kangaroo court, and crucified on a Roman Cross. He weeps because, in a moment of prophetic vision, He sees the terrible consequences that will befall Jerusalem as a consequence of their rejecting Him for their self-absorbed egos and agendas. Again and again in his three-year ministry, Jesus preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom established through repentance, forgiveness, and the acceptance and sharing of the mercy of God for all to all. The people whom Jesus came to save did not, and perhaps could not, hear His message. The 1st century Hebrews were so consumed with squabbling over prestige among themselves, resentment against their Roman oppressors, and self-righteous religious legalisms that they could not perceive that God Himself was in their midst in human flesh. Blinded by vanity, self-centeredness, and the delusion of self-reliance, they could not see Love and Grace Incarnate, and so they rejected Him. As Jesus stands and beholds Jerusalem, He sees that their blindness will lead to their own destruction. He sees that forty years after His death and Resurrection, the Hebrews will raise an army and start a violent revolt against their Roman conquerors. He sees that, in response to this revolt, Roman legions under General Titus Flavius Vespasianus will lay seige to the city, destroy the Temple, and slaughter everyone they find. Jesus sees all this and He weeps. Jesus weeps because, in the same way that my fifth-grade friend did not understand that time would bring an end to the value of his Skamoleans, the people of Jersualem did not undertand that time would bring an end to their petty idols of prestige, resentment, and self-righteousness. Speaking not in judgment but in simple sadness, Jesus says, “they did not know the time of their visitation.”
You and I may not be so immature as to spend the time we have accruing Skamoleans, like my friend. You and I may not be so embittered that we murder prophets of peace and take up violent arms against our enemies, like the 1st century Hebrews. But if you are like me, we do become blinded to the most important things in our life, which are God and our relationships with the people around us. If you are like me, this blindness prevents us from seeing that today is “the time of our visitation:” And what does that mean? Time is fleeting. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. We desperately and above all things need God where He can be found, which is right here and right now. Perhaps instead of collecting Skamoleans, we collect other idols and tokens through which we measure our superiority to others: jobs, schools, or friends that are “right” not because they give us joy but because they give us prestige. Or, more insidiously, perhaps we collect resentments through which we measure our being better than others: resentments against our families who never sufficiently appreciate us; resentments against political groups that do not agree with our more enlightened world-view; resentments even against other brothers and sisters in Christ who threaten, frighten, or repel us. Most insidiously of all for Christians, perhaps we collect self-righteousness, through which we separate ourselves from others and in so doing separate ourselves from the God who loves us all. Chaplain Mike, who writes for the weblog entitled “The Internet Monk,” put it this way: “The more I go on as a Christian: the more I grow in knowledge, the more I become integrated into the Christian community, the more my lifestyle conforms to the expectations of my particular Christian group, the more separated I get from “the world” and its ways, the more I learn to act, speak, dress, and think like a Christian, the more my capacity for self-righteousness increases.” A church, which is a collection of Christians, is a collection of people who are not better than anyone else. We are a collection of people who are supposed to be aware that God so loved the world—with no exceptions!—that He gave His only begotten Son to the end that all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. When those inside a Church become blind to the fact that we need God just as much as those outside the church, then we have nothing to offer to those outside the church. Why would anyone come to a church that has nothing to offer but the blindness of prestige-seeking, resentment, and self-righteousness? But if, through God’s grace, we can be honest with ourselves and humble with each other, if we acknowledge that our lives are still choked with idols and tokens, if we confess that our relationships are still ruined by resentments, self-justifications, and self-righteousness, and if we admit that we still and constantly need to turn to God who loves all of us as we are, then we stop being the kind of church over which Christ weeps, and start becoming the church over which angels rejoice in heaven.
The idols of prestige, resentment, and self-righteousness that litter our lives are simply different form of Skamoleans. One day, they will all be revealed as the vanities they always were. One day, like the voracious egos they fed, they will disappear. One day, all that shall be left is God, the loves He has planted in us, and the grace He gave us to make them grow. That day does not have to be the day we die. That day, through God’s grace, can be today: the day that we turn to the love of God in Christ Jesus and come alive.