It is very easy in the church, in our lives, and in the world to major in minors. What I mean by this is that sometimes we can get so caught up in the details, that we can overlook the whole point of the matter. How many people do you know, for example, that at the end of their life lamented how much time they had spent with their family? Or how many businesses are there that make a conscious decision to spend less time or work making sure the customers are happy? Or how many churches are there in the world that spend so much time on the things of today, that they forget they exist in order to bring Jesus Christ to their people?
This is what we have with our Lord in the text this morning. Jesus is drawing near to Jerusalem, the city of peace, God’s city, the holy city, and rather than rejoice over it, he weeps. Jesus sees a city and a people so immersed in the things of this world, that they miss the most important event of their lives. They miss God’s gracious visitation. God Himself was coming into their midst, into their flesh and blood, walking among them, teaching and healing in the Temple, and they would act as if nothing had happened. As a result of their unbelief and stubbornness, there would come a time not far in their own future, when the city would be level, and not one stone would be left upon another. It is a sad picture.
But the picture gets even more tragic. Jesus then goes to the Temple, the very place where God had promised He would dwell, and what does He see there? He sees the work of the sacrifices turned into a bustling business. He sees this magnificent building, which all pointed to God’s reconciling love, turned into a place for the select few to make a buck. It is no wonder He wept. It is no wonder he drove the hucksters and hustlers out of the Temple. Jesus wept, and He was right to do so. Remember, this is the same Jesus who said before, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…, how often have I wanted to gather your children as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Luke 13:34).
But He does not only weep for them.1 He weeps for you. That word “visitation” is a variation of the word we usually translate as “bishop” or “overseer,” or what we in Lutheran terms would call pastor. God’s oversight of the world, both the mysterious, hidden presence throughout history, and His oversight at the Last Day, is that of the Good Shepherd. He comes into your midst to lead you away from the life that leads to death and destruction, and leads you into into paths of righteousness. But when we think about God, look at His presence in our midst, our pride makes it so that we cannot see Him as the Shepherd, but rather as an angry judge.
What I mean is this. It is nearly impossible for us to separate the presence of God from the judgment of God. We do not by nature think in terms of a God of love. What is the first thing that pops into your head if I were to say to you that God is present here, in the flesh, right now? Fear. That is the first thought, or nearly the first thought.
One preacher put it this way:
Going into the temple, he drives out all who sold and bought in the temple, overturns the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons, and says to them, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.” His episkope – his visitation, his gracious shepherding and bishoping of creation – once again asserts itself. Of all the places in the world that should have stood witness to grace and truth, the temple was that place; but the world has infected even it, and there is nothing to be done with such a ship of fools but to pronounce upon it the judgment it deserves. Nevertheless, even after he parabolically acts out that judgment, his visitation remains one of grace: “and the blind and the lame [losers all] came to him in the temple, and he healed them” (Matthew 21:14).
Luther once described the Gospel as a passing rain shower that comes to a place for a time and then leaves. You never know how long it will stay, or when it will go from the place. The mediterranean world, particularly Jerusalem and Palestine, were the birthplace of Christianity, but within a few centuries that had changed. There was a time when Europe was the center of Christianity, but no more. There was a time when the United States was the heartbeat of Christianity, but I fear that is fast leaving us. What this really comes down to is a people refusing to recognize God’s presence in their midst.
So today, my challenge to you is this. What are the things that prevent you from receiving God’s mercy? Is it money? Family? Friends? The things of this world? Do you see God’s hand at work in your life, drawing you into His gracious presence, forgiving your sins, giving you life where there is none and hope where it is absent? Repent of all of your ties to falsehood, your desire that the things of today become your gods.
Repent, and believe. Believe that Jesus is your Good Shepherd. Believe that He comes as your judge, and that He judges you innocent of all because of His own death on the cross for your sins. Believe that God comes to you even now, humble and lowly, weeping for you, longing to gather you into Himself. God is in your midst. Right here. Right now. He is a God of love, nor fear. He loves you more than life itself. Christ Jesus is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4). Be free of the burden of your sin. Be free, and live as free people, one, holy, and righteous because of His death and resurrection.
It is easy to major in minors. It is easy to let the things of this life really take on a life of their own. But Christ is your life. Live in Him, for He lives for you. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
1 Taken from Fr. Capon