When I think of the ways I have sought peace over my 45 years of life, I’m reminded of the old Johnny Lee song, “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.” I’ve housed a troubled soul in this body of mine more times than I’d like to admit. And for most of my life, my instinct has been to look for peace in a variety of sources that have no lasting peace to offer. For over twenty years, pornography was a regular go-to for me. Emotional eating has certainly been rampant as well. Distracting myself with various kinds of media has also been one of my ineffective salves. These things, and others, may have offered momentary relief, but they never offered any kind of lasting peace. Going to them for peace is like going to an empty well for water.
I know I’m not alone in this. I think we all have our ways of dealing with soul-trouble that are not effective or beneficial. Yes, drugs, alcohol, cutting, or any other variety of self-soothing may offer momentary relief, but such relief does not really address the troubled soul. Such relief is not the same as peace. Again, empty wells.
After Jesus entered the outskirts of Jerusalem on “Palm Sunday,” there a came a moment of quiet. The crowds had thinned out and the shouts of “Hosanna” had stilled. Jesus looked out over the city, and he cried. According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.”
This is a heavy statement in the afterglow of his triumphal entry just a few moments before. The thing is, Jesus was not fooled by the joyful celebration that ushered him into Jerusalem. He knew what was going to happen there. Various times, according to the Gospels, he shared with his friends that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. He also knew of the peoples’ fickle hearts. He knew they wanted him to take political power and overthrow the Romans. He knew they would turn on him when he did not live up their expectations.
More importantly, Jesus knew that a political messiah and a confrontation with the Romans were not really what the people of Jerusalem needed: “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.” They thought peace would come through home rule, through political liberation. But Jesus knew different. He knew that such things would offer only temporary relief and not address the central issue: their troubled souls. And at the end of that week, just as Jesus predicted, they would refuse the way to real peace, reject Jesus, and hang him on a Roman cross.
This moment in Jesus’ journey toward the cross serves as great encouragement for me. First of all, it’s pretty easy to see that I’m not the first person to look for peace “in all the wrong places.” I think it’s a common human foible. God prescribes a way to peace, but we reject it because we think we know better. I’ve got a lot of company in this boat of troubled souls. We look for peace in every place except the one place it can actually be found: trusting God’s way over our own.
The greater encouragement for me, however, is in the picture of deep love I see in this moment in the biblical story. Jesus deeply loves the people of Jerusalem. Not soft, gushy love… but strong, self-sacrificial love. And while he knows they are about to betray him, torture him, and nail him to the cross (with the help of their Roman complicitors), his heart longs for them to experience real peace, the kind of peace only he can provide.
“How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace.” I’m pretty sure this is Jesus’ heart now for you and me as well. He loves us in the same way he loved the first-century inhabitants of Jerusalem. He longs for us to discover the way to real peace and to find rest for our troubled souls. As we look forward to the events of Holy Week, let’s purpose to seek peace where it can actually be found.