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  • Writer's pictureFr. Scott Haynes

Destruction of the Temple

Fr. Scott A. Haynes

At that time, when Jesus drew near to Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it, saying, If you had known, in this your day, even you, the things that are for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a rampart about you, and surround you and shut you in on every side, and will dash you to the ground and your children within you, and will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you have not known the time of your visitation. And He entered the temple, and began to cast out those who were selling and buying in it, saying to them, It is written, ‘My house is a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of thieves. And He was teaching daily in the temple. (Luke 19:41-47)

In St. Luke’s Gospel our Lord prophesies that Jerusalem will come to ruin because of their refusal to repent and turn toward the Lord. This prophecy came true in the most terrible manner. The people of Jerusalem, oppressed by the Romans their cruel masters, revolted, killed many of their enemies, and drove them out of Jerusalem.

The Emperor Nero sent a powerful army and laid siege to the city. Factions formed among the people of Jerusalem. They fought in the streets day after day, each struggling for control. The streets were red with blood.

Meanwhile, Nero’s army encircled Jerusalem. The Emperor Nero committed suicide after the Roman Senate declared him a public enemy; his successor Galba soon died, and the soldiers placed their beloved commander Vespasian upon the imperial throne.

He then left Jerusalem with his army, but within the year, he sent his son Titus with a new army to Judea, with orders to capture the city at any price, and to punish its inhabitants. The supply of food in the Holy City was soon exhausted. Famine and pestilence came upon the city. The leader of a faction of savage revolutionists, a man named John of Gischala, caused the houses to be searched, and the remaining food to be torn from the starving.

When the Roman army under Titus captured them with his cavalry, anyone who was armed was crucified. Nearly 500 men, and sometimes more, were daily crucified in sight of the city, so that there could not be found enough of crosses and places of execution.

Even this terrible sight did not move the people of Jerusalem to submission. Incited by their leaders to frenzy, they obstinately resisted, and Titus finding it impossible to take the city by storm, concluded to surround it by walls in order to starve the inhabitants.

In three days, his soldiers built a wall of about ten miles in circumference, and thus Jesus’ prediction was fulfilled:
“Thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and straiten thee on every side.”

The famine in Jerusalem caused people to do unimaginable things. From April 14th when the siege commenced, to July 1st there were counted 158,000 dead bodies. Another 600,000 dead bodies were thrown over the walls into the trenches to save the city from infection.

All who could flee, fled; some reached the camp of the Romans in safety; Titus spared the helpless, but all who fell into his hands armed, were crucified. The Roman soldiers had learned that many Jews had swallowed gold to secure it from the greed of robbers, and so the stomachs of many were cut open.

Two thousand such corpses were found one morning in the camp of the Romans. The attempts of Titus to prevent this cruelty failed. At last, the Romans trying to enter the temple of Jerusalem, threw a flaming torch it into one of the rooms attached to the temple.

The flames quickly spread and totally consumed it, so that this prediction of our Christ was also fulfilled. The Romans butchered all the inhabitants whom they met, and Titus having razed the ruins of the temple and city, ploughed it over, to indicate that this city was never to be rebuilt.

During this siege over one million Jews lost their lives; ninety-seven thousand Jews were sold as slaves, and the rest of the people dispersed over the whole earth. Foreseeing all of this Jesus overlooked Jerusalem in the Gospel today and He wept. He wept because of the horrific destruction of human lives and the everlasting damnation of souls.

The people of Jerusalem were hard-hearted. They would not repent of their sins. What about us? Are our hearts hardened by pride? By willfulness? By stubbornness? How many times have we been exhorted by to reform our lives…in the pulpit, in the confessional and in the counsel of friends? Yet, oftentimes, we give no ear to these admonitions. And we continue doing our will. We say we will change our lives later.

St. Gregory the Great, in his commentary on today’s Gospel, tells us that if we are stubborn about correcting our vices, then, we are like men running, yes running with our eyes blindfolded, towards the gates of hell. But God does not want any of us to run toward the gates of Hell. No! He wants all of us to run toward the gates of paradise.


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