Today is Maundy Thursday. Maundy is derived from the latin word mandatum – or mandate or command. I got my time table blogging this week messed up due to some personal issues, so what I posted yesterday was supposed to be be today’s post. The final, new command from Jesus was to “Love one another as I have loved you.” Powerful stuff when you think about just how much he loved us and how far he went to demonstrate that love – his crucifixion.
So, today, we’ll jump back to walking through the Stations of the Cross, which will lead us back to the demonstration of his love as he was nailed to the cross.
I’m kinda going with a different style these three stations. As I did when I started blogging the Gospels (and honestly, I will finish that series in the coming weeks and months), these are just thoughts and tidbits of information that I gleaned while reading and studying the passages in the Gospels relating to the events of Jesus’ crucifixion.
Station 9: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem (Luke 23:27-31)
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?” Luke 23: 27-31
In that day, executions drew crowds. Many wanted to see the spectacle of a crucifixion. There are probably all sorts of reasons for this, but it was dramatic and violent and scandalous – like so much of our entertainment today.
But pious Jewish women often attended because they wished to mourn the Jewish citizens who were crucified by their overlords, the Roman government. Women would provide a drink to the Jewish dead men walking that provided a narcotic or anesthetic effect. The mourning they felt was because the Romans often reserved crucifixion for the Jewish revolutionaries – those who were outspoken against the oppressive Roman government and especially their presence in the holiest of Jewish cities – Jerusalem. Jewish women mourned the death of those that tried to bring them freedom… and Jesus tells them don’t mourn for me! He was telling them I am not the type of revolutionary you think I am. I am not here to bring you political relief.
So Jesus looks at these women and addresses them. He references the book of Isaiah chapter 32 – a reference to coming judgment. This was Christ once again warning the Jewish people of God’s judgment for denying their Messiah. Many of the warnings Jesus gave about impending judgment is as of late interpreted for our modern age (all those end times sermons you might have heard). But in a historical contextual read of the scripture, Jesus was giving the people of his time warning of a judgment that was soon to come. In the future I intend to delve into this topic more deeply, but over and over again Jesus was warning of imminent judgment – and this is no different.
The warning of Jesus that spanned his ministry are seen during the years leading to the fall of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70 – a generation removed from the crucifixion of Christ. Jesus was warning these woman with words that signified a mother’s lament over losing a child. They also would have recognized references to Hosea and Isaiah that indicated awful judgment to come.
The destruction of Jerusalem, an event that spanned several years leading up to AD 70, is horrific to read about. I’ve read some of the accounts from the history Josephus recorded during that time and I found myself in tears. Famine was so bad in Jerusalem during the seige of the city that revolutionaries claiming to the the Messiah hoarded food for themselves and their armies and the citizens who did not leave the city were left to starvation, with accounts of mothers even resorting to cannibalizing their children to avoid starvation.
Is there any doubt why Jesus would take time during this suffering to offer words of warning to these women?
Station 10: Jesus is Crucified
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him and the criminals there, one on his right, the other on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Luke 23: 33-34
Station 11: Jesus Promises His Kingdom to the Good Thief
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23: 39-43
I’ve kinda combined these two stations (#10 & #11) because there is a bit of crossover as the events of the crucifixion continue to happen.
Despite numerous examples in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) that allowed for prayers of vengeance when wrongly persecuted (Jeremiah 15:15, Jeremiah 17:18, Psalm 137:7-9 are just a few), Jesus turns the tables on the situation and offers prayers of forgiveness toward his persecutors.
The Jewish law was tough on those that wrongly convicted a person – they could suffer penalty before God. Yet, here is Jesus interceding on their behalf.
Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.
Lord, have mercy was his cry. In this moment of horrific violence, Love shown through.
The words of the Lord’s prayer echo here – Forgive those who have trespassed against us.
Lord, have mercy!
And then… here was Jesus lifted up on the cross. Between two criminals. Dying a shameful death. But was that not the story of his life? Born to a couple that had shame surrounding them based on the circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy and his birth? Joseph could have divorced his wife, but instead took on her shame and stuck with her. And now, at the moment of death, Jesus was dying a shameful death.
But he was no stranger to that circle. He sat with sinners, ate with the marginalized, refused to throw stones their way. And here now, Jesus literally hung with sinners.
Historically the men on each side of Jesus were known as thieves. But a better translation of the term used would have been criminals… and Mark’s Greek word indicates they were possibly revolutionaries. Again, indicating that it was often Jewish rebels that found themselves bearing the brunt of the Roman government by suffering crucifixion.
Jesus denied he was here to bring the type of revolution so many wanted and expected of their Messiah. His revolution was to be spiritual, not political.
And this Jewish desire to see the Messiah be a political savior could really explain why one of the criminals scoffed so badly at Jesus. “Are you not the Messiah? Save all of us!” Aren’t you here to end this Roman oppression that we’re about to die from? Save us!
Yet, the other criminal – he had probably heard the message of Jesus. He observed the witness of Jesus in those moments leading to Golgotha. He overheard Jesus saying “Father, forgive them.” And he got it… he totally understood. The Messiah was not one to bring revolution. The Messiah was to take away the sins of the world. The words of Isaiah – Suffering Servant. The message from Isaiah 53 may have echoed in this man’s mind. And he got it… Jesus was the real deal.
And instead of expecting the Kingdom of God to replace the Roman government, he realized the Kingdom of God was bigger and deeper than worldly government. And he said, “Remember me when you go to your Kingdom.”
And Jesus rewarded that insight and that faith and promised that they would both find themselves in the abode of the righteous – or Paradise. Words of hope given during such a hopeless moment.
Holy Week is drawing to a close… Resurrection is coming!
To learn more about the Stations of the Cross bring your family and journey to the cross with a 30 minute interactive experience called Embrace the Cross on Good Friday. It is an interactive worship experience. This event is free and open to the public. KIDS ARE WELCOME and there will be activities geared specifically toward them. Sponsored by Ashley Ridge Church and Trinity Church Summerville. Find out more details at this Facebook Event Page.