Why Was Jerusalem Sieged?

At Our Lady of Perpetual Help Minor Seminary in Sriracha, Thailand

In today’s Gospel reading at Mass in the Latin Rite (Lk 19:41–44), Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem:

If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.

In this we have the answer to the question: Why was Jesusalem sacked in the year 70 A.D. and the temple destroyed? And the answer is not “punishment.”

Jesus gives the answer. It tells us the relationship of the Hebrew people and Jewish religion to salvation history. The City of Peace did not recognize the “things that make for peace”. Jerusalem did not “did not recognize the time of [her] visitation from God”.

And what if she had? What if Jerusalem had recognized “things that make for peace” and the “visitation from God”? Well, the answer is contained in the question. Then the history of the Hebrew people and the Jewish religion would have been other. There would have been no distinction between Christianity, which largely consists in Gentiles grafted onto the original and still subsisting root of the Hebrew people, and Judaism. If the people of Jerusalem had recognized God in Jesus and had seen him, the One who brings peace, then there would not have been so many branches that broke off of Israel; there would be no reason for the relationship of the Gentiles to Israel to be one wherein the Gentiles will, one day, provoke a divine jealousy of conversion in Israel (Rm 11:11). The relationship would be opposite. It would be Jerusalem which brought peace, sought out to give peace, to all and sundry in the Gentile world. The banner would have been one of mass conversion to Israel’s vision (something Israel had never attempted in its history). In a world where the first generation of Christians comprised “the Jewish people” and not merely “some Jews”, the missionary dynamic would have been different. Stephen’s speech would have been different (Acts 7:51–52), and thus Saul’s life (Acts 8:1), and thus (and also) Paul’s missions (Acts 17).

This is not the same thing as saying that 70 A.D. was a “punishment”. Nonsense! Jesus did not come to condemn the world (Jn 3:17) – and as an example of “the world”, Jewish life is common in the Gospels – nor did Jesus allow the interpretation of the “falling tower of Siloam” (Lk 13:4) to be based on the notion of punishment. The use of the word “punishment” in this context is, at best, insufficient. That’s obvious. That’s clear. Why? The whole dynamic of the economy of salvation history is in play here.

Jesus says, If the Jews had believed, their mission would have been to bring peace, which is Jesus himself, to the Gentiles. But in fact, “the Jews” did not believe (though the first generation of Christians is composed entirely of Jews). And in actual fact, the dynamic becomes one of interdependence between Jews and Gentiles (Rm 9–11):

  • Gentile Christians being grafted onto the original and still existing root of Israel, from which it is possible for the original branches to fall off;
  • Jewish Christians being the original root prospering in Christianity;
  • non-Christian Jews being possibly alive in Christ but, if so, unknowingly, though they are part of the original stalk of this Christ-plant.

And in this – may we say so – bizarrely constructed body, there is no simple option of the Hebrew people, carrier of both the Jewish patrimony (Rm 9:4–5) and the Paschal Christ himself, to bring peace to the world. And if there is no such option, then both antagonism and friendship grow between Jews and Gentiles. In Christ, the dividing wall comes down and friendship grows – more or less openly grows, more or less openly in Christ. In all actions (and possibly people) outside of Christ, the antinomy grows between Jews and Gentiles, for they bear the standard of different things, both within Christ and without.

When Jesus is prophesying that Jerusalem will fall, he, as God, has the fullness of human history within him. As the concrete Jesus in his humanity, he may have had a clear vision of the actual fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., with all its historical contingents. On the other hand, the fundamental truth is not about historically contingent events – nor is it about punishment. The fundamental truth is about the economy of salvation in which we live. And that economy of salvation, as Saint Paul insists at length, has its seeming lack of mercy so that, in the end and through these causes and effects at the level of creatures, God may “be merciful to all” (Rm 11:32).

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