J. S. Bach, Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben! (BWV 102)

The Gospel reading for the 10th Sunday after Trinity (St. Luke 19:41-48) reveals two remarkable emotional episodes in the life of Jesus. In the first half of the reading, Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem, aware that the hardness of heart of its people will result in their judgment. Norval Geldenhuys comments on this passage that “their persistence in their wicked unbelief has blinded them to the opportunities for redemption still remaining; through their own fault the way to salvation is hidden from their sight.”

As a result of this rejection of the Savior, he predicts (apparently with convulsive tears) what their fate will be:

For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.

After this prophecy, Jesus goes into the Temple and — in a scene that is better-known than his weeping — angrily casts the money-changers out from the house of prayer.

One of the cantatas that Johann Sebastian Bach composed for liturgical use on this Sunday is Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben! (“Lord, your eyes look for faith!,” BWV 102). The text of the opening chorus (taken from Jeremiah 5:3) is from the point of view of an onlooker who is aware of the failure of Jerusalem — especially the chastened money-changers— to repent:

Lord, your eyes look for faith!
You strike them but they do not feel it.
You torment them, but they do not improve themselves.
They have a face harder than a rock
and are not willing to be converted.

Each of the following six movements in this cantata contains sober warning against being hardened in one’s failure to repent. Here are the other texts Bach uses to convey this urgent plea.

Movement 2: Bass recitative:

Where is the image that God has stamped upon us,
if our perverted will sets itself against him?
Where is the might of his word,
if all improvement disappears from our hearts?
The Almighty strives to tame us through gentleness,
in the hope that the misguided spirit might be willing to be calm;
but if someone persists in his arrogant frame of mind,
then he abandons them to the darkness of their hearts.

Movement 3: Alto aria

Alas for the soul, that of its shame
is no more conscious
and, to bring punishment upon itself,
rushes headlong,
indeed from God’s grace
separates itself.

Movement 4: Bass arioso
(text from Romans 2:4-5)

Do you despise the riches of his grace,
patience and forbearance?
Do you not know that God’s goodness should lead you to repentance?
But you with your stubborn and impenitent heart
are heaping upon yourself anger in the day of anger
and of the revealing of the righteous judgement of God.

Movement 5: Tenor aria

Feel fear then,
you soul who who are all too confident!
Think what makes you deserve
the yoke of sin.
The forbearance of God goes on feet of lead
but for that reason his anger with you will later be all the heavier.

Movement 6: Alto Recitative

In waiting there is danger;
do you want to waste your time?
God, who before now was merciful
can easily bring you before his judgement seat.
Where then is your repentance? It is only an instant
that separates time and eternity, body and soul
Blinded mind, turn back now
so that this very hour does not find you unprepared!

Movement 7: Chorale

Today you live, today be converted,
before tomorrow comes, things could change
The person who today is vigorous, healthy, ruddy,
tomorrow is ill, or even dead.
If you die now without repentance
your body and soul must burn there.

Help, oh Lord Jesus, help me
so this day I may come to you
and in a moment do penance
before swift death overtakes me,
so that in this way today and at all times
I may be ready for my journey home.

Below is a brief explanation of how Bach uses various musical devices in this cantata to convey the urgency of the exhortation in the text. The commentator is conductor Jos Van Veldhoven of the Netherlands Bach Society.

Below is a complete performance of Herr, deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben! (BWV 102) by the Netherlands Bach Society, conducted by Jos Van Veldhoven. The soloists are Alex Potter, alto, Thomas Hobbs, tenor, and Peter Kooij, bass. The text in interlinear German/English is available here.