In 1989, my son Joel was going through the RCIA at St. Jerome Parish in northwest Phoenix. His mother and I had delayed the kids’ baptisms so that they would remember it, have it as a touchstone for future experiences in their lives. I wanted to mark Lent that year with a special musical memory.
It was Year C of the lectionary, which meant that we were reading the gospel of St. Luke for most of the year. As we do here, during Lent, from the third to the fifth Sundays of Lent, we opted to use the Year A readings at all the Masses so that everyone could hear the same scriptures while our RCIA candidates, both children and adults, would be experiencing the same readings. Obviously, this makes things easier on the priests and musicians too, so that different homilies and songs don’t have to be chosen for different Masses.
There is a verse in chapter 9 of Luke’s gospel when Jesus’s Galilean ministry is coming to an end, and he decides to take himself, the disciples and the message right to the center of the country: Jerusalem itself. The current version of the New American Bible says, “When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51). A footnote reveals something closer to the Greek, “resolutely determined” is more literally translated, “set his face toward.” Knowing (from books and pictures, not from actually having been there) that Jerusalem is built on a series of hills, I just made the minor adjustment with another figure of speech and put the line in the first person.
“I have fixed my eyes on your hills, Jerusalem, my destiny;
Though I cannot see the end for me, I cannot turn away.”
Intentionally, I employed language to call attention to the humanity of Jesus. I feel it’s important for us to remember that Jesus wasn’t pretending to be a man, but had the same doubts and issues we all have. The popular “The Message” bible translation says, “Jesus gathered his courage and steeled himself …” for that same line! So I’m not the only one who thinks this way!
But I also wanted us to identify with Jesus in this place where he stands in his ministry, with a decision to speak the truth to power (he has just had the Transfiguration event in the same chapter of Luke, and predicted his passion and death twice) and take his ministry to the seat of Roman power and temple influence from his more modest beginnings in the outland. That’s why the second part of the refrain continues:
“We have set our hearts for the way. This journey is our destiny.
Let no one walk alone: the journey makes us one.”
Each of the verses picks up the imagery of one of the five Lenten Sundays (the desert temptation, the transfiguration, the woman at the well, the man born blind and Lazarus), and the bridge (“O city of hosannas!”) is for Palm Sunday.
I may never get to the Holy Land, but this song has been there many, many times, and I’ve heard lots of great stories about people singing it on their pilgrimages. It’s such a privilege to share peoples’ lives in this way!
Jerusalem, My Destiny is on the GIA (giamusic.com) CD Safety Harbor and is on all the usual streaming services and YouTube.