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?”
The contrast between this march out of Jerusalem and the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem is as stark as it is unavoidable. On the way in, crowds laid palms and garments; on the way out they are beating their breasts in anguish. On the way in, they cried out “Hosanna in the highest!”; on the way out they are wailing in mourning. On the way in Jesus was hailed as king; on the way out he is condemned to die as a criminal.
We don’t know who these women are whom Luke references. Perhaps they are some of the women who brought him children to be healed, or ate of the bread he shared when he fed the multitudes, or witnessed him curing friends and relatives. We don’t know. Or perhaps they were “professional mourners” who accompanied most such processions, leading the larger crowd in mourning with demonstrative wails and by beating their breasts.
What we can guess with confidence, however, is that whoever they were they were most likely not expecting Jesus’ response. He does not want their pity. He does not want their grief. He goes where he knows he must. Moreover, he foresees the time of anguish that will soon come to Jerusalem when, a generation later, the Romans invade the city, lay siege to the Temple, and destroy the holy place of Israel.
Luke writes after these events have transpired, and through this description he tries to put that calamity into perspective as one of the many griefs of the nation that God addresses in and through the death and resurrection of God’s Son. How ever awful Jesus’ death may be, Luke reminds us, it is not just one more tragedy, one more death of an innocent in a cruel and uncaring world. Rather, his unjust death gathers up all the other deaths and injustices we suffer and lends them the dignity and honor of knowing that the son of man and Lord Christ also suffered this way. We are not alone in our grief, our pain, our confusion. God, the Son of God, understands because he experienced it firsthand.
But it is still more. God doesn’t just understand, suffering silently and impotently beside us. God also promises to redeem. In and through Jesus’ death, God contends with and ultimately defeats death. In and through the injustice Jesus experiences, God brings justice, not through strength of force but through the peculiar power of vulnerability.
Do not weep for me, Jesus says to these women and to us, even as he weeps for, takes on, and ultimately defeats all that would rob us of abundant life in this world and the one to come.
Prayer: Dear God, thank you. Thank you for Jesus, the One who came among us to take our lot and our life so that we may know that we are never alone and that where he is now we will one day be. Thank you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Post image: Gwyneth Leech, “Jesus Speaks to the Grieving Women,” 2005.