“If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!”
Jesus addresses Jerusalem in the second person singular. He’s talking to a single unit, a city. So much is going on with this seemingly insignificant detail. Too bad we can’t just call it poetic license and leave it at that. Unfortunately the Bible is a big book and there’s a lot of heft going on behind Jesus’ linguistic choices.
First off there’s the personification of Jerusalem, something that happened all the time in the Old Testament. The phrase “O Jerusalem” comes up fifteen times in the Old Testament, twice in the New (although it’s the same event described in two Gospels). Then there’s the phrase “daughter of Jerusalem” or “daughters of Jerusalem” that come up fourteen times, particularly in the Song of Solomon.
Second, building off the personification of Jerusalem, is the idea that Jerusalem is the bride of the Lord. The phrase “daughters of Jerusalem” and its usage in Song of Solomon has most often been interpreted as God’s love song to His bride, His people, symbolized by Jerusalem. The prophet Isaiah says, “For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, And her salvation as a lamp that burns. …as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, So shall your God rejoice over you.”
The whole book of Hosea is an parable of how Israel, God’s wife, committed adultery with him and her children are the children of harlotry. Of course, it’s for this reason St. John writes of the “New Jerusalem” in this way: “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
More theologically, there are a few points to make about how the Lord deals with His people collectively.
The Lord dealing with us collectively goes hand in hand with the entire, objective nature of the Gospel. The ark was an objective thing in which those saved collectively gathered. The Passover was a collective event in which those saved participated collectively. So also the crossing of the Red Sea and the manna from heaven.
The Lord, when He came forth on the Passover to slay the firstborn, didn’t look at resumes of the people; He looked at one thing – lamb’s blood. Ham and Shem may have tussled, argued, swore at each other, lied about whether they fed the lions, and lusted at each other’s wives; still the ark floated on above the waters.
Some in the Gospel had little faith – disciples even! Others doubted, were skeptical, or weak in faith. The disciples fell asleep due to the weakness of the flesh. One person didn’t even have faith, and Jesus still saved him! Here, as with the ark, the Passover, the manna, and ultimately the whole nation of Israel, Jesus is an objective Savior, collectively saving us, and we who are saved participate in that salvation collectively.
The point is, when you look at the collective nature of the Gospel, you’re forced to focus on its objective marks. Just as yesterday we contemplated how Jerusalem bore the judgment collectively – without regard to the goodness or badness of any individual Jew – so today we focus on the same thing but from a different angle. The Lord deals with us collectively.
We call that the Church. The Church is the institutional manifestation of the truth that, we do not do the faith, but the faith does us. It’s the “Our” of the Our Father. The “we” of the Nicene Creed. The faith is like the pallet with the lame man carried by the four men. Jesus looked at the faith of the four men and then said to the individual lame man, “Your sins are forgiven.” It’s a collective thing.
Church has been defined differently by different denominations, but perhaps the most basic foundation about which every Christian can agree is that, Church is what arises from the principle that Christians submit their selves to something higher, bigger, and more transcendent than their individual selves.
Some evangelical traditions actually try to define the church on individualistic terms – it’s what happens as any given Christian personally inspired by the Holy Spirit brings his worship along with others doing the same thing, and I guess we sort of feel our way through that mess. “I feel like the Spirit’s telling me to say this…but oh wait, Billy Bob has a message from the…now what’s Martha doing up at the piano??”
This is why the “House church” movement doesn’t have legs, and if they do, there will certainly arise a “leader” who will assume the mantle of that church’s ethos or numinousness. But the true Church will always have ordained ministers, which is different than leaders. Leaders assume the mantle of group’s numinousness; ministers assume the mantle of Christ. They are “ordered” into it and are committed to an objective standard, even as Christ’s teaching and ministry is objectively standardized in the Gospel.
Jesus assumes a collectivity as regards His people in this week’s Gospel. He addresses them as a single person, His bride. And how wonderful is this. Our zeal goes up and down; our sinfulness wanes and waxes; our personalities place us all over the map. Thankfully Christianity is not for a particular form of zealousness, a certain standard of moral perfection, or a given type of personality. It’s for those in the collective known as “the body of Christ.”
Baptism gets us into that body. Faith governs that body (yes, collectively, but that trickles down into subjective manifestations of course.) And objective words administer that body…and blood…for us.