Luke 23: 26 – 31 The crucifixion of Jesus – the daughters of Jerusalem
As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me: weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, “Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!” Then
‘ “they will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ ”
For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?’
* * *
This passage mixes a narrative of the events of the crucifixion with prophecy and with theology.
First of all, we have the soldiers seizing Simon from Cyrene, and making him carry Jesus’ cross. Why would this be? The most likely reason is that by now Jesus was too weak to carry it. Although St Luke doesn’t mention it, the other three gospels tell us that Jesus was flogged before being led out to be crucified. The wounds from a Roman flogging were very severe. And this was on top of beatings by the temple guards, and additional ill-treatment from the Roman soldiers. The need for the Romans to force Simon to carry Jesus’ cross tells us that Jesus was undergoing an intense physical ordeal.
And yet, despite being nearly spent, Jesus is aware of the crowd. He hears women mourning and wailing for him. He speaks to them. He has no comfort to offer, simply a prophecy. He tells them that, bad though this event is, things are going to become much worse. He tells them that they will say, “Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!” Under what circumstances would a first century Jewish woman say such a thing? Only when the values of civilisation had been turned on their head.
There are two opposing forces that shape human society, and ultimately determine the destiny of the human race. There is love, which comes from God; and there is sin, which is self-centred. The love of God prompts us to care for our world and to care for each other. Sin causes us to disregard the welfare of our world and to exploit other people for our own benefit. When sin has too great an influence in a society, the values of civilisation seem to be turned on their heads. Greed is rewarded and the needs of the weak are trampled on. And when that is the case, sooner or later comes the reckoning, when indeed people say, “Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!”
On his way to the cross, to agony and death, Jesus thinks this message is sufficiently important to proclaim to the bystanders. And he’s not merely proclaiming it – he’s living it. He is sacrificing everything to tip the balance back to the love of God.
I have often asked God, “Why did Jesus have to die, and die so cruelly?”
Well, this is a part of the answer. Jesus is showing that love has a readiness to sacrifice absolutely everything for others. He is showing that sacrifices made because of love are effective in changing the world.
All those of us who love Jesus need to heed this message.
Thank you for letting me understand a little of the mystery of the suffering of your son, Jesus. Please help me to follow him faithfully.
In Jesus name, Amen