Text Study for Luke 19:28-44 (Part Four)

What are “the things that make for peace”? It is hard to avoid this little phrase spilling from Jesus’ lips as tears spill from his eyes. Jesus’ lament over the Jerusalem status quo is not a pronouncement of judgment. It is a litany of grief. After all, there is no phrase more familiar to a grieving person than the words, “If only…”

Jesus rides on the back of a donkey down the slope of the Mount of Olives. As the great city comes into view, Jesus cries. “If only you had recognized the import of this day, things could be different.” But that recognition was not forthcoming. As Luke tells the story, there is no welcoming delegation from the city as he approaches. There is only the anxious reproach of some of the Pharisees, urging Jesus to silence his disciples.

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If only we knew the things that make for peace. In these days when graphic and horrifying images of destruction, death, war crimes, and attempted genocide fill our news feeds, I wonder if our Passion Sunday eyes can be turned anywhere else in our text. What are the things that make for peace? If only we knew, we would put those things to work.

Yet, the Lukan account is nothing but a record and report of those things that make for peace. Speckman argues that these things are listed and described in at least three locations in the gospel narrative. We can find summaries of the things that make for peace in the birth narratives, in Jesus’ Nazareth sermon Luke 4:16-18), and in Jesus’ response to John’s disciples (Luke 7:22). These are not descriptions of military strategies, lists of armaments, or the words of great military leaders. These are calls to God’s justice.

If this phrase, “the things that make for peace,” was on the lips of Jesus, he did not use the Greek word, “eirehneh.” Instead, he would have used the Hebrew word, “shalom,” or its Aramaic cognate. We can remember that shalom is much more than the absence of conflict or the presence of serenity. It is, rather, the embodiment of God’s justice in the communal life of Creation. One mission of the people of God is to enact that shalom together as a sign, instrument, and foretaste of the restoration of Creation to that Divine Shalom.

Speckman reminds us that the kairos, the appointed time of God, is already mentioned in Luke 1:20 and makes repeated appearances throughout the text – 12 times in the gospel account and 9 times in the Book of Acts. The marks of that appointed time are listed in Mary’s song. The Lord’s strength triumphs, much to the surprise of those proud in the imagination of their hearts. The powerful are brought down from their thrones, and the lowly are lifted up. The hungry are filled, and the rich are sent away disappointed (Luke 1:51-53).

This is in fulfillment of the Lord’s promises made long ago to Israel, beginning with the covenant with Abraham. Those promises continue with Abraham’s descendants through the ages. The things that make for peace will turn upside down the normal order of human affairs.

Jesus comes to Nazareth and preaches his sermon. Remember that he tells his listeners, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The Nazareth folks, like those in Jerusalem, did not recognize the day of their “visitation.” Jesus announced that his mission was to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. He had arrived to declare God’s Jubilee Year that would have no end (Luke 4:18-19).

In Luke 4, Jesus makes a messianic visitation. The day is at hand. The content, program, and goal of the mission are made clear. Those who hear the message and those who receive its benefits are now equipped to recognize what is going on in their presence. Yet, the established order is not having it. We should get ours first, the Nazareth folks say. But that’s not what makes for peace.

Even after Jesus has healed the centurion’s slave and raised the widow’s son in Luke 7, John the Baptist and his disciples do not recognize the day and the things that make for peace. “Are you the one who is to come,” John’s disciples ask, “or are we to wait for another?” The Lukan narrator expresses a bit of incredulity at this moment. “Jesus had just cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and given sight to many who were blind” (Luke 7:21). What part of that could John’s disciples have missed in their reports back to their leader?

So, let’s try this again, Jesus says. Go and tell John what you are seeing and hearing! The blind can see. The lame can walk. Lepers are cleansed. Deaf are hearing. Dead are raised. And the poor have good news brought to them. If you can be open to what’s happening, you’ll be blessed. These are the things that make for peace.

“It appears that our view of the phrase: ‘things that make for peace’ has all along been limited by our understanding of ‘eirene’ which only refers to a lack of strife,” Speckman writes, “or absence of war. It should be much wider and understood in terms of shalom,” the author continues, “a holistic wellbeing of a person. This is certainly what Jesus tried to bring about,” Speckman concludes. While Speckman describes Jesus’ early work as correcting “faulty aspects of Judaism,” I think it would be more accurate to say that Jesus recalls God’s people to their real mission and challenges the Jerusalem elites to lead in that project.

Speckman sees the lament in Luke 19:41-44 as “the watershed moment” in the Lukan account. It is a text that is unique to the Lukan author. It is, as I noted earlier, a lament rather than a pronouncement of judgment. It is, as Speckman notes, in the same tone and type as the earlier lament in Luke 13 when Jesus longed to cover Jerusalem under his protection like a mother hen would shelter her chicks. The difference is that Jesus now seems resigned to the rejection he experiences.

Who is Jesus addressing in his lament? “In my view,” Speckman writes, “the target is neither the temple nor its rulers but the system that is administered from the temple. Jerusalem represents a system which is operated from the temple,” the author continues. “It is this system that must be destroyed through a substitution for the things that make for peace.” Collaboration with the colonizers, concentration of wealth, polarization of social and economic classes, rising poverty, increasing violence – these are all signs that the system has failed. At some point, warfare and destruction are bound to follow.

“This Palm Sunday, you have the opportunity, dear Working Preacher, to speak of that dream of peace, to speak of the Prince of Peace.” Kathryn Schifferdecker writes in her workpreacher.org article. “This year, as every year, we begin Holy Week in praise of a king whose power is not that of tanks and fighter planes, drones, and supersonic missiles. This week,” she continues, “we see the power of God to do something that no army can do: to give life, not destroy it; to change hearts; and to destroy the power of sin and death once and for all.”

In the midst of the images of cruel death and wanton destruction, this message may be a hard sell this year. Perhaps we should take our clue from Jesus in the Lukan text and begin with lament rather than triumph on this Sunday of the Passion. The Prince of Peace has come, and it seems that lots of people have barely noticed. The result is that the things that make for peace are hardly visible.

In this vein, I have no profound advice for world leaders and diplomatic negotiators. The wheels of death are in motion, and it will take mighty efforts even to slow that forward momentum. For the moment, it seems that people of faith are able to engage in prayer, in worship, in relief through our institutional agencies, and in advocacy with our elected leaders (at least here in the US). That is certainly not nothing, but it will not bring about the cessation of hostilities or the restoration of order we so desperately desire (or we should, if we don’t).

The things that make for peace are things that happen in our daily and ongoing work for justice and compassion in the world. That work happens in our individual and communal lives. That work happens when human governments act with compassion and integrity rather than with cruelty and deceit. Often, we may miss the things that make for peace – but not always. It is slow and often hidden work, but it is not in vain.

And though Jesus grieves over the hardness of human hearts even when given the chance to soften, that is not the end of the story. It is, rather, only the beginning. In Holy Week, once again we tell the story of a God who will not take No for an answer, even when that No comes in the shape of a Roman cross.

Resources and References

Capon, Robert Farrar. Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Kindle Edition.

Gonzalez, Justo L. Luke: Belief, A Theological Commentary on the Bible. Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

Kinman, Brent. “Parousia, Jesus’ ‘A-Triumphal’ Entry, and the Fate of Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-44).” Journal of Biblical Literature 118, no. 2 (1999): 279–94. https://doi.org/10.2307/3268007.

Levine, Amy-Jill, and Witherington III, Ben. The Gospel of Luke (New Cambridge Bible Commentary). Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Malina, Bruce, and Rohrbaugh, Richard L. Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Kindle Edition.

Speckman, McGlory. (2014). Jesus and the tyche of Jerusalem: A reflection on the mission of Jesus in Luke 19:41- 44 with special reference to the mission of Kairos in Greek mythology. Missionalia42(3), 168-191. https://dx.doi.org/10.7832/42-3-63

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