The culmination of three years of teaching, healing, and traveling had come. As they entered the ancient city, thousands of people shouted praise to their Messiah who had been seated slightly above the procession on a donkey. Okay, the donkey thing was weird enough. You can’t get rid of the kingdom of Rome without war, and a donkey was an animal of peace.
But, they followed dutifully and cheered with the crowd. I wonder if any of them noticed Jesus’ reaction to the festivities:
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. (Luke 19:41-42, NIV)
I suppose they could have mistaken his tears as tears of joy. But what about the thing he said? The disciples were missing something. I think Jesus intentionally acquired his donkey from a certain town to give us another clue: the town of Bethpage.
The only negative miracle Jesus did was cursing the fig tree just outside of Jerusalem that final week of his life. The tree had leaves, so it was advertising that it had fruit for Jesus, but when Jesus went to enjoy it he found nothing there. It was symbolic of the Temple he was about to enter. Its people claimed to be doing God’s work when they weren’t actually bearing fruit for him. It was to be a house of prayer for all nations, but they had turned it into a religious clubhouse that had forgotten its purpose.
Bethpage is a small town just on the other side of the hill from Jerusalem. It was often paired with Bethany because of their proximity. That very well could be the reason it’s mentioned. But, Bethpage means house of unripe figs. Trees that grew there were infamous for bearing fruit that was edible but that never ripened properly.
At first I thought that Bethpage was a mirror of Jerusalem. But, at least the figs in Bethpage were edible. If Jesus had picked fruit from that tree at least he could have taken a bite, even though it wouldn’t have given him pleasure.
Jesus didn’t cry or curse a fig tree at Bethpage. Still, I wonder if he had ever eaten figs there. You see, God is a pleasure seeker too. When we follow him, that pleases him immensely. True peace is our state when we are in a right relationship with God, and relationships are a two-way street.
Do you belong to Bethpage church? I’m not talking about churches in Bethpage, NY. I’m referring to churches that only offer fruit to God that is never fully ripened – churches that try their best to look like they produce the best kind of fruit that would please Jesus Christ when closer examination clearly proves otherwise. They are quite unproductive with regard to the Great Commission that requires the kind of uncomfortable prayer and faith that I wrote about in my last post. That’s the kind of fruit Jesus is looking for.
I can’t help but wonder if Jesus wept not just for the people of Jerusalem, but also for the people of Bethpage. They may be slightly different from Jesus’ perspective, but they are very close. And Bethpage is the last stop before Jerusalem.
Stop being confused about why Jesus weeps, and don’t let him cry for you this Palm Sunday.