The Stations of the Cross: A Devotional Guide for Lent and Holy Week – The Ninth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

The Ninth Station: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem

Copyright © 2007, Linda E. S. Roberts. For permission to use this picture, please contact Mark.

Luke 23:27-31

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Reflection

Growing up, I pictured the last week of Jesus’ life in stark, simple terms. Jerusalem, in my imagination, no doubt colored by Sunday school film strips, was a small town of maybe a few hundreds residents. All of these people came out to hail Jesus as king on Palm Sunday. Then, all of these same people showed up at Pilate’s palace to call for his crucifixion. Though I wasn’t a hardcore anti-Semite, I believed that “the Jews” wanted Jesus dead because he claimed to be God.

Whenever I pictured Jesus meeting the women of Jerusalem along the Via Dolorosa, there were just two or three women, no doubt followers of Jesus, who were weeping for him. Meanwhile, the rest of the Jewish crowd was egging on the Roman soldiers, eager to see Jesus crucified.

But a few years ago I began to study the New Testament records of Jesus’s death with greater care. To my surprise, I saw things I had completely overlooked before, things that changed my perception of Jesus’ last hours.

For example, Luke 23:27 notes that “a great number of people followed [Jesus]” as he walked to Golgotha. Luke gives no indication that they were crying out for Jesus’ death. In fact, by mentioning the women weeping for Jesus, Luke implies that the “great number of the people” were upset by what was happening to him. There’s no evidence that that were egging on the Roman soldiers, as I once imagined. Luke makes this even clearer a few verses later, after Jesus’ death: “And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts” (Luke 23:48). This can only mean that the great majority of Jews who witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion were horrified, not happy, to see him die. They were certainly not among those who had earlier called for his crucifixion in Pilate’s courtyard.

The fact that only a small minority of Jews in Jerusalem actually wanted Jesus to be killed is confirmed by another passage in the Gospels that I had once overlooked. In Matthew, as Jesus is teaching in the temple during the days before his death, we read:

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. (Matthew 21:45-46)

The Jewish leaders wanted to arrest Jesus, but “they feared the crowds.” Why? Because the crowds “regarded him as a prophet” and, by implication, would have been horrified to see him arrested and crucified.

My close reading of the Gospels, combined with study of first-century Jewish history and culture, has corrected my youthful misunderstandings. I now recognize that Jerusalem wasn’t a small village, but a substantial city of perhaps 30,000 or people residents. During the Jewish holidays, such as Passover, the population would swell to as much as ten times this amount. This means that a tiny percentage of the Jews in Jerusalem were directly involved with or actually called for the crucifixion of Jesus. His death was surely engineered by the Jewish leaders in collusion with Pilate and his Roman cohort. As far as we know, the vast majority of Jews in Jerusalem were either horrified by or unaware of what was going on with Jesus.

I think it’s important for us to understand what really happened in the death of Jesus for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the sad history of anti-Semitism among Christians. For too long it was acceptable to utter the familiar refrain, “The Jews killed Christ.” And for too long many Christians used this as an excuse to persecute Jews who lived centuries after the death of Jesus, and who therefore had nothing to do with his death. In fact, some Jews were involved in the death of Jesus, mostly the leaders of Jerusalem. But Pontius Pilate alone had the authority to crucify Jesus. According to the Gospels, the majority of Jews who had any awareness of Jesus’ death were grieved, not glad. If we blame “the Jews” for the death of Christ, we’re making a mistake.

And, of course, we’re also missing the main point. Jesus did not die primarily as a helpless victim of Roman or Jewish injustice. He chose to die on the cross in faithfulness to the Father’s will and so as to bear the sin of the world. If anyone is to blame for the death of Jesus, we are, because we have sinned. Thus in looking upon Jesus’ death, we join the women of Jerusalem in weeping, not only for Jesus, but also for ourselves. In the death of Jesus we see what we deserve, and we rightly feel appalled.

Then the mystery of grace astounds us. We realize that Jesus is bearing our sin so that we might be forgiven, that he is dying in our place so that we might live in his place. We sense the wonder expressed in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might because the righteousness of God.” How amazing!

Prayer

Gracious God, to whatever extent there are remnants of anti-Semitism in me, please forgive me and cleanse my mind and heart. Help me not to blame others for the death of Jesus, but to see my own sin as sending him to the cross. Even more, help me to grasp the mystery of your grace, to see in the death of Jesus that which gives me life. May my weeping over the suffering of Jesus, and my sorrow over my own sin, turn to joy when I recognize the majesty of Your mercy. Amen.

You can find the entire series of devotions (up to this point) here: The Stations of the Cross: A Devotional Guide for Lent and Holy Week.

  • Evan

    Mark,

    At the outset of your series, “Why Did Jesus Have To Die?”, I pointed out in summary form a number of things pertinent to the discussion as to just who was responsible for the death of Jesus. Short answer is that it was me; Jesus laid down His life to save ME. I also pointed out that Jesus forgave those who were killing Him, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

    In light of your remarks today, I want to address something that will sometimes be retorted to me: Jesus forgave the ROMANS, because they were the ones around the cross when He said it, but He did NOT forgive the Jews. This is absolutely false, and if you will bear with me, let me quote from Acts Chapter 3, in which Peter is addressing the Jewish crowd in the Temple that had seen the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate. Peter says,

    13 “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus, the one whom you delivered and disowned in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him.

    14 “But you disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked for a murderer to be granted to you,

    15 but put to death the Prince of life, the one whom God raised from the dead, a fact to which we are witnesses…

    17 “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also.

    18 “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.

    19 “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…”

    Peter explicitly states that any Jewish people (he addresses them as “brethren,” meaning fellow Jews) and their rulers, involved in the events that led to Jesus’ death, “ACTED IN IGNORANCE.” Jesus explicitly forgave those who “know not what they do.” The inescapable conclusion is that ALL PARTIES involved in Jesus’ death were forgiven by Him, and that includes the lawyers, the Pharisees, the High Priest, the priests, the scribes, Pilate, the Romans, the crowd shouting “Crucify Him!”–EVERYONE is forgiven. They “acted in ignorance.” There is no basis for anyone, Christian or not, to “take vengeance” for the death of Jesus, but absolutely nobody who is actually a Christian should even think about it. (That is even putting aside the continual Scriptual admonition that “‘Vengeance is Mine,’says the Lord” and the continual New Testament commands not to repay evil with evil, but rather love.)

    Jesus came that all may be saved and have eternal life. Anyone seeking to harm Jews or anyone else for the death of Jesus demonstrates their ignorance of scripture. The debt for all sin, including Jesus’ lynching, is covered by His own blood and explicit forgiveness.

    Evan

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  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Evan, for your comment and insight. Anyone who believes that Jesus did not forgive those Jews who were, in part, responsible for his crucifixion doesn’t understand the forgiveness of Jesus.

  • dee

    can you help explain what luke meant when he said that it woul dbe better for the women to be barren in the future. the passage is always portrayed as jesus confrting the women, but why didn’t he simply say, “Do not weep.” That seems more to the point, that he knew his death would lead to resurrection for all who follow him. I can’t figure out what he was trying to say to the women. why should they cry for their children if through his death he was promising everlasting life? thanks so much.

  • Anonymous

    Jesus is using a figure of speech to say that the suffering that is to come will be so bad that people will wish they had not brought children into the world. Notice that Jesus did not say it’s good not to bear children. He is quoting what people will say in the future.

  • dee

    thanks so much MArk… but what suffering is he speaking of? again, i thought that the point of the cross was to bear our sins so we have the promise of resurrection. shouldn’t this outweigh our life’s suffering (if that is the suffering he is pointing to). I really appreciate any insight. thank you so much.
    dee

  • Anonymous

    Dee: Jesus is speaking of the suffering that is coming to Jerusalem, when the Romans will sack and destroy the city. By pointing to what’s coming, he is giving the woman an opportunity to turn to God in repentance. You’re right about the promise of the cross and resurrection.

  • dee

    thank you… that makes much more sense.
    dee


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