Jerusalem the Golden Featured

Jerusalem the golden, with milk and honey blest...a glorious hymn begins. Golden city indeed. The seat of King David. The heart of salvation history. The theatre of Jesus’ ministry, cross and resurrection. The place from where, Muslims believe, Prophet Muhammad journeyed to Heaven. The New Jerusalem, the emblem of the final destiny of humanity, the Book of Revelation says. Superb!

A sceptic scoffs: deceptive, grotesque hyperbole! Because today Jerusalem, he sneers, seems more a curse than a blessing. Is he wrong?

Actually, Jesus himself when he walked the earth was pretty tough on Jerusalem. The Gospel of St Matthew has him crying out: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings but you were not willing!’ (26:27). It is the last of seven woes, seven warnings Jesus pronounces against the munafiqun, the hypocrites of his time. Wicked people who masqueraded as pious but who plotted evil against the Messiah.

Nothing new in that. One of the prophets stoned to death was Zechariah, son of Jehoiada. His last words were: ‘May the Lord see and avenge.’ Pretty bloody. Pope St Pius X recognised that the history of Jerusalem had often been unholy. Yet, he said to Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, who sought the Pope’s support, the city had been redeemed and sanctified by the mighty deeds and blood of Christ. Pius thus refused to back the Zionist project. Guess Herzl was not pleased.

The present Israeli rulers of Jerusalem are arrogant. When Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat lay dying suggestion was made he should rest in Jerusalem. Justice minister Yosef Lapid growled:

‘Jerusalem is the city where Jewish kings are buried, not Arab terrorists’.

Did uncharitable Lapid also mean King Manasseh? Ruled in Jerusalem from 687 to 642 BC. His crimes are set out in II Kings, chapter 21. Manasseh ‘did evil in the sight of the Lord’. Built altars to heathen gods even inside the Temple of the Jews’ jealous god. He consorted with mediums and wizards and ‘Filled all Jerusalem with innocent blood’. To cap it all, the Bible relates, he sacrificed his own sons to the Baals, the phoney deities of ancient Canaan. Definitely not a nice bloke. Buried in Jerusalem, nonetheless. And so was his evil son, Amon. Not to mention King Herod Antipas who had St John the Baptist, the prophet, imprisoned and beheaded at the behest of that woman, Salome – an abominable crime to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike. Come to think of it, even King David, the most revered of all, was an adulterer and a murderer – Nathan the prophet told him to his face.

With the rise of Christianity Jerusalem became the focus of a universal pilgrimage. It boomed since Empress Helena, mother of Constantine, visited the holy city in 326 and recovered the True Cross. That pilgrimage was a most sacred and emotional experience but the priest confesses it: he has never been to the Holy Land. Not necessary for me to tread the soil of Palestine to feel in communion with Jesus Christ. Jesus’ definitive utterance to a certain Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well is explicit: ‘Neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father...The Hour is coming when true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth’.(St John 4:21-26)

Christ spoke clearly: mere territorial possession of Jerusalem or of the Holy Land is no essential part of the Christian faith. Thus, the Vatican after WWII called for the internationalisation of Jerusalem, whose status was to be a ‘corpus separatum’, a separate body, emphasising its unique religious status. The United Nations too envisaged Jerusalem to be an international city. The Israelis however seized West Jerusalem in 1948 and conquered the East part after the Six Day War of 1967. Unilaterally and against international law, they proclaimed it the capital of the state of Israel.

It is painful to observe how Druid Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury kept mysteriously silent about the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem. In a Lambeth statement after meeting Israel’s Chief Rabbis Williams rightly condemned anti-Semitism but failed to say a single word about the status of a city sacred to Christians. Disgraceful!

Likewise, current ABC, wimpish Justin Welby has not bleated a word of criticism – some Arab Christians have accused him of failing to visit them during his recent junket to the Holy Land, while paying respect to Israeli dignitaries. It fell to a braver Christian leader, Archbishop Christodolous, the patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Greece, to speak out. ‘Fear the wrath of God!’, he warned the Israeli authorities.

Well said. ‘Fear the wrath of God’. It is the same terrible warning, the prophets, the holy men of ancient Israel, the inspired voices of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and many others gave out to their erring nation. A warning all unrighteous persons and peoples fail to heed at the cost of their eventual, terrible chastisement.

‘O sweet and bless country, Shall I ever see thy face? O sweet and blessed country, shall I ever win thy grace?’ the Jerusalem hymn asks regarding the heavenly city. Only God can answer that. Shall earthly Jerusalem ever know true peace? Shall its inhabitants ever enjoy true justice? That is also up to you and I. To deeds!

Frank Gelli I am an Anglican priest and cultural critic and commentator. I have BA in Philosophy, MA in Christian Ethics, MA in Islamic Studies, PGCE in Religious Education and Oxford Certificate in Theology. I have been a journalist & drama critic in Italy and England.
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