“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41)
There are several places in the Scripture where we encounter Jesus weeping. Probably the most memorable is when Jesus approaches the tomb of His friend, Lazarus, where John the Gospel writer records a most simple, striking sentence: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). We may also call to mind Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest and crucifixion. While engaged in deep, strained prayer, Luke tells us Jesus was “exhausted from sorrow” (Luke 23:45). But before the sorrow of His exhaustion before the Cross, we find Jesus weeping before He enters Jerusalem with great acclaim. Why did Jesus weep over Jerusalem at this point? Luke tells us Jesus’ tears are followed with His words about the impending destruction of Jerusalem and its people, a destruction that necessarily flows from people forsaking God and the peace He offers (19:42-44). In Matthew’s parallel account we hear Jesus’ words: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). Jesus weeps over the annihilation of God’s city and destruction of people who could have experienced God’s peace and care. Instead, they turn away from God to pursue their own ends. Jesus weeps over people and places fleeing God’s presence and goodness.
In Flevit super illam (“He wept over it” or “Then He wept”), Enrique Simonet offers a strikingly large painting, 10 feet by 18 feet, that vividly invites us into this awesome moment. Simonet traveled to Palestine in order to study the place and culture before painting this scene. As we look at this painting, we may feel we are right there with Jesus and His followers gathered on the crest of the Mount of Olives before the triumphal entry. We join them in gazing at Jesus, whose tears fall while His hands are outstretched in care and love over Jerusalem and all its people. The sky is dark, and Jesus almost seems to be in shadows while the light of either a sinking moon or a rising sun (art critics still debate this) blazes through the darkness to light up the city. The followers fix their eyes on Jesus, while Jesus’ eyes are fixed on Jerusalem and a wayward humanity. His response flows in tears. Before this painting we join Jesus in weeping over the world and lost humanity.