December 21, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Matthew 23:37-39, the end of the chapter of woes.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned, desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”
The first sentence sounds like the voice of God, our God who has both male and female characteristics. Our God who loves us as both father and mother. There are countless metaphors in both the Hebrew and Greek Bibles that allude to God as both figures. No one yearns for children to be together as a mother does. No one is as tender in gathering them under her protective wings. The tender mercy of God is palpable in these words. That was part of Jesus’ mission — to show us the loving heart of God, our Father and Mother.
Just a few chapters earlier in Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the crowd had cried out, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The very same words that Jesus uses here and the words we incorporate into the Sanctus at the end of the preface to the eucharistic prayer at Mass. I understand Jesus’ words here to mean that through faith I am able to see him again and again in the eucharist as I say or sing, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
This passage has such contrasts. Yearning yet warning. I can’t help but think of our own country in these times, a country so torn by extremes as in much of the world. We are like so many children squabbling, spiteful, and even hurtful, sometimes with deadly consequences. God so longs for us to love one another, to gather us under her wings. But we refuse to accept or even tolerate one another so much of the time. I fear that He may abandon our house. We have been so blessed, but periodically we go through wrenching periods of warring against each other — the Civil War, carpet-bag Reconstruction, assassinations, Jim Crow, McCarthyism. It’s a long and continuing list of evils we perpetrate against one another. At some point we may have to pay the consequences. It’s not that God is going to punish us; I don’t believe that. It’s that history repeats itself. We may so damage ourselves that we find ourselves in the dustbin of history, a term interestingly popularized by Leon Trotsky.
God so yearns to gather us in and we fight Him at every opportunity — within ourselves, our families, our community, our country, and our world. All He asks is that we turn to Him, that we love Him and one another. Yet we are determined to resist His yearning. We are determined to be right, to have our way, to coerce others to follow. We all want to be god. The funny thing is that God never coerces; He only invites. He only loves; He only forgives.
It’s interesting that this chapter or woes, of rebukes and warnings ends with this note of sad yearning, of unrequited love. And yet He keeps loving us.