Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger
Jerusalem is much more than a special city, albeit so for very sound historical, religious and even political reasons. It’s an epicenter of great significance for three major world religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Jerusalem is a city of destiny, a place of pilgrimage for those seeking an encounter with divinity. Perhaps — and for that reason — both a sign of hope as well as a reminder of pain and sorrow, for the price of human salvation — for where we are not yet — which requires conversion and sacrifice. Yes, Jerusalem is no stranger to violence. 

A reading on a recent Sunday (Lk 9:51-62) began that section of St. Luke’s Gospel where Jesus, completing his Galilean ministry, begins the next stage of his journey “facing” Jerusalem. In all senses of the word, Jesus is “looking forward” to a rough road, his own “exodus,” which would culminate in his violent death and his glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven, which is the new Jerusalem, as the Book of Revelation envisions it (cf. Rev. 21).

We know that the “exodus” Jesus faced would bring much personal suffering, both physical and emotional, including betrayal and the loss of friends. Both stages of his journey begin with rejection. In Nazareth (Galilee), many members of the family of Jesus thought he was “out of his mind” (Mk. 3:21). Or they dismissed reports of his extraordinary works, citing their familiarity with him: “… isn’t this Jesus, the carpenter’s son?” (cf. Mt. 13:55) In Luke, no sooner had Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God is at hand when his townspeople drove him out of town, up a hill, to hurl him over its brink (Lk 4:29). Pushback is often what one encounters, who proposes new ideas, converts to a new way of life or chooses an unfamiliar course of action. 

When Jesus begins his path toward Jerusalem after his ministry in Galilee, he meets resistance. He had to pass through Samaritan territory on the way. Samaritans and Jews were hostile toward each other and two disciples (James and John), aware of his miraculous powers, implore Jesus to call down fire from heaven on the people of Samaria for their refusal of hospitality. This incident recalls an episode in 2 Kings 1:10-12. Jesus refuses to identify with Elijah and rejects an attitude that those who do not accept him be punished severely.

Now may be a good time to pause as we celebrate the birth of our Nation, facing perhaps a long, hot summer, with uncertainties about our future as a people united in a common mission that so inspired our forebears. They cherished the blessing and promise of freedom, with law based on universal principles, assented to by the governed, constitutionally guaranteed.

Birthdays and anniversaries are typically occasions to look back and remember, to count our blessings and celebrate them together. Among them are many that all citizens, even visitors and refugees to our land, can celebrate together. We cannot deny either the errors and tragedies that we have encountered, and the scars and vestiges that remain, stitched into the tapestry of our history, even as it continues to unfold. Such threads bear many names and wear different colors, the mere mention of which pricks our personal and national consciences. Looking back, thankfully and critically if we have the honesty and integrity to do both, we will surely find reasons for being both proud and repentant, especially where injuries continued to require healing and restoration. Hope remains that, remembering and returning to our foundational principles, we are able to do just that. 

Our only reason for hope — or apprehension — cannot only be routed in “the way we were” or what we have become. We are always more than our past, for better or for ill. God calls us most consequentially in the present. We cannot just rest on the laurels of our ancestors’ successes or excuse our own sins by numbering theirs, or we will not rise to what our nature as human beings truly is: to take responsibility for our own lives and our own future in the present. Is that not what freedom, really, is all about: not just the ability to do all that we desire, but to set ourselves on a path to do what is right as we face our future together?

What I mean to say is that our goals and objectives are every bit as important in discovering and defining who we are as our identification with movements, actions and associations of the past, of which none of us had or has much control, be it our race, religion, national or ethnic provenance, or biological constitution. We are all, as we find ourselves in this moment, beloved children of the one God — something most all pilgrims to Jerusalem concur in — invited to seek our destiny in the Jerusalem our faith calls, in the words of the old song, our “happy home.”

As Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, relying only on his desire to follow the will of his heavenly Father, knowing that his path would be arduous, though ultimately glorious, we might see this moment in our Nation as an occasion to celebrate our common humanity first and to resolve that, with great patience, we will walk together with ears to listen and eyes to envision the common ground of our destiny in a world God loves and has blessed. There is something in life that is always beyond what life is today and, while involving patience and sacrifice, will always lead us beyond today’s trials and tribulations.

Faith in God is essential here. For if all we believe in is only what we have already done (or not done), if we judge our past and present only by what has been handed down, on what has already happened, we become, in a sense, victims defined by the past, instead of survivors with a future offered by a God of infinite love — and patience.

Patience. It may be the most reliable and authentic sign of the presence of true love. Not as dramatic, perhaps, as some novels and narratives might portray, but undoubtedly the most godly. God waits for us and never gives up on what humanity can become, each and every one of us, and together as the one human race (“We hold these truths to be self-evident …”).

When Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, he shows us, patiently and painstakingly, how resistance can be overcome with love and trust in God (“In God We Trust,” our motto). He rejects violence and ultimately becomes its victim on Calvary. Yet he triumphs on the Cross by not yielding to hate, sin, condemnation or retribution. And the Father raises him up triumphant over even death itself. I have a suspicion that this is exactly what Jesus meant when he confidently forgave his persecutors and assured the repentant thief that “this day” he would share his Paradise. The promise is that if, like him, we face Jerusalem, seeking the will of the Father, we will also find that our personal path and the path of our Nation are one: under God, the author of life and liberty. What conviction is more fundamental for the peace the world cannot give?