October 23, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 23:26-31.
As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?”
Up to the end Jesus used memorable metaphors to communicate his message. What is his message? According to Johnson in The Gospel of Luke, daughters of Jerusalem or Zion in biblical literature represented the city itself. Jesus here is addressing all the people, not just the women in the crowd. In Jesus’ time there was hardly a fate worse than being unable to bear a child. A child was an heir, a child carried on the family name, a child was free labor, a child was insurance against the infirmities of old age. Barrenness was grounds for divorce. So, the days ahead when people would say that a barren womb was blessed must be unimaginably terrible. Johnson writes, “Sterility and barrenness are classic expressions of failure and of God’s disfavor rather than blessing. For a tradition in which having children is the quintessential blessing of God, a situation in which the barren are blessed in indeed grievous.” Barclay believes that Jesus was “seeing ahead the destruction of that city which had so often before, and which had now so finally, refused the invitation of God.” That’s serious stuff!
Jesus then quoted from scripture, Hosea chapter 10: “Then they shall cry out to the mountains, ‘Cover us!’ and to the hills, ‘Fall upon us!'” The context was God’s punishment of idolatry, the sin of Israel. God’s punishment was to be so terrible that people would plead for a quick death. The idolatry in Jesus’ time as in ours was still the golden calf — the placing of wealth, power, and prestige above the command to love God by caring and providing for one another. What does the wood being green as opposed to dry mean? The New Jerome Biblical Commentary states that this verse can be paraphrased as, “For if they have done this to Jesus, one who is life-giving, what will happen to dead, unrepentant Jerusalem.” The green wood was the present time and the dry was the future of Jerusalem under the siege of the Romans.
In these verses, according to Johnson, “Luke continues to portray Jesus as the sage and prophet. Even as he goes toward his death, he can ‘turn toward’ the women and deliver his somber prediction; he is capable even in this moment of greatest vulnerability to perceive the larger meaning of events and declare them: the violence done to him the messenger of peace, will be visited on those who do this violence, and in such terrible fashion that even the innocent will suffer as a result.” We still do violence to the messengers of peace today. It seems they don’t stand a chance; it seems God doesn’t stand a chance.
Weep for ourselves. Weep for the children slaughtered in their classrooms. Weep for the people in the movie theater murdered in their seats. Weep for the Afghan woman killed working in the field by a predator drone. Innocents all who suffer at the hands of the violent. It’s a blood-thirsty world we live in. It makes me cringe to think of God’s day of judgment coming upon us. However, I can’t despair. I must live with peace in my heart knowing that He loves me as He loves every person He has created. I must respond with peace in my heart when all I want is vengeance. I must advocate for peace because aggression and war destroy life. I must heed the commandment not to kill and do what I can to see that it becomes the letter and spirit of the law of the land. Jesus has warned us and he has shown us how God wants us to love one another, not kill one another.