The various run-ins between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees are some of the most unlovely encounters in the gospels, full of threats, traps, accusations, petty jealousy… But they’re only one element in a whole bunch of stuff that makes Jerusalem seem a very unlovely place.
With a very unlovely history. Anyone who knows their Old Testament will remember the stories about prophets being, at best, ignored, and at worst, persecuted and killed for speaking the word of God. Elijah being pursued by Jezebel is just the best known. God’s most faithful servants and spokesmen always suffered for their calling.
We might also recognise something of the parable of the wicked tenants in the vineyard; Jesus certainly sees Jerusalem as, “The city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.”
Nothing about Jerusalem in the gospels seems lovable. And yet Jesus loves it and its people, feeling as a parent does about a wayward child – loving, frustrated, desperate even… Jesus’ love for Jerusalem is a love that takes him to the cross, but it is also a love that is ultimately stronger than death.
God’s love for that which seems unlovely is awe-inspiring. Loving that which seems unlovely is a hallmark of Godliness, and if we ourselves can learn to look around us and at one another through the eyes of God then we rejuvenate the divine image within us.
Thursday’s Love Life Live Lent action challenges us to love the unloveliest parts of our neighbourhood enough to tidy them up. Like a God who came into one of the darkest, most difficult parts of the world in order to bring his light right into the heart of where it was needed.
Saturday’s action asks us whether we love our friends enough to put the emotional energy into keeping in touch, rather than relying on them to make the first move. The incarnation shows that God does not insist that we make the first move in keeping in touch with him, but is always more ready to listen than we are to pray.
Friday’s action demands that we love ourselves enough to dare to disrupt our habits and give ourselves the chance for new life and new experiences.
Learning to pour love into places and people, and learning to love ourselves, is generous, and it is Godly. This is a good challenge to rise to. But for me, this reading overwhelmingly reassures me that even in my most unlovely moments, God is still my heavenly Father, and still longs to gather me, like a mother hen protecting her chicks.