The psalm says, ‘On the holy mountain is [Jerusalem], his city, cherished by the Lord. The Lord prefers the gates of Zion to all Israel’s dwellings. Of you are told glorious things, O city of God, [Jerusalem].’ (Psalm 87) The Lord God loved Jerusalem and lived within its walls. God dwelt there in a special way in His temple on Mount Zion.
The people of Jerusalem felt pretty special about having such close access to God, but this pride was often their greatest weakness. You see the people of Jerusalem imagined they had this holiness thing in the bag, being so close to the Lord and all. Imagine their shock when a prophet would come along to tell them that they were not so perfect as they thought. When God sent them the prophet Jeremiah, he told them:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Reform your ways and your deeds, so that I may remain with you in this place. Put not your trust in the deceitful words: “This is the temple of the LORD! The temple of the LORD! The temple of the LORD!” Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deeds; if each of you deals justly with his neighbor; if you no longer oppress the stranger, the orphan, and the widow; if you no longer shed innocent blood in this place, or follow strange gods to your own harm, will I remain with you in this place…”
Time and again, God sent prophets to Jerusalem to call them to conversion, but Jerusalem would persecute, imprison and kill them. But they did not convert. And, in the lifetime of Jeremiah, their enemies (the Babylonians) conquered the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the temple of God within it. We hear God’s feelings about all this through words of Jesus:
“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.’”
Jesus’ words matter for us today too, because Jerusalem symbolizes our souls. At our baptism, God began to dwell in our souls as His temple, as His new Jerusalem. The psalm is speaking about your soul and mine when it says:
O praise the Lord, Jerusalem!
Zion, praise your God!
He has strengthened the bars of your gates,
He has blessed the children within you.
He established peace on your borders,
He feeds you with finest wheat. (Psalm 147)
Indeed, God has strengthened the bars of our gates, our defenses against evil. He has blessed the children, everything that is good and loveable, within us. He establishes peace on our borders, in our relationships with others. And He feeds us with the finest of wheat in the Eucharist. We should feel pretty special about having such close access to God, but we should not make the same mistakes as the old Jerusalem.
You and I can persecute God’s prophets too. We do it whenever we choose to rebel and sin against the good God wills for us. We do it whenever we kill the voice of conscience within us. We do it whenever we imprison the Holy Spirit’s movements within us to the confines of a tiny cell. We do it whenever ignore or refuse to listen to the teachers Christ has given for His Church.
When we are persecuting God’s prophets, we can even evict God’s presence from our souls through freely and knowingly committing a grave or serious sin. We are conquered by our enemy and the temple inside us is destroyed. And ‘behold, our house is abandoned, desolate; and we do not see Him again until we say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ What can do to help prevent this horrible estrangement from occurring? And if it does occur, how can we ask the Lord God to return?
In the sacrament of reconciliation, we acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Blessed One who comes in the name of the Lord. When we acknowledge this, He forgives our sins, and God joyfully dwells in His cherished city. Today, Jesus Christ calls your city to repentance and the conversion of your soul.