“Daughters of Jerusalem” (Luke 23)

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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. or 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?’ (Luke 23:27-31)

Were they the professional mourners of the type that Jesus dismissed from the house of Jairus, (in Luke 8: 41-56)? Probably not, since their sincerity is not called into question. Or perhaps they were the “certain women” of Luke 8:1-3 who followed Jesus, offering support?  It’s unlikely, because Jesus addresses them as “Daughters of Jerusalem,” and  accords them a place as representative of the doomed city.

Once again, Luke indicates the important role of women in the People of God.  They constitute the awakened conscience that their male counterparts in the trial left dormant.

But Jesus turns to the group of weeping women and says, in effect, “You’re weeping for the wrong reason!” You should rather “weep for yourselves and for your children.”

That is to say, Jesus’ rejection and death means an impending judgment on the city and the nation. In fact, that judgment represents the price for anyone who rejects Jesus.

Indeed, “The time will come” (a familiar phrase in Luke), when all blessings and curses will be reversed, for when judgment bites it will be better to be barren than to bear and nurture a child.

According to some, the women wept because they thought Jesus had no one to carry on his name and his line would perish. Paul Wright noted that: “The two greatest values of life in ancient times were the maintenance of your ancestral land and your family; your ancestors behind you, your unborn descendants before you. Woe be it if your generation cuts that because you don’t have kids and all of your ancestors behind you are anticipating an unlimited eternity of descendants but that stops because you were infertile”

For “If men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” The gist of the prophetic parable is clear enough. The green wood is Jesus, while the dry wood is Jerusalem in judgment. If this situation is bad, it is nothing compared to what is on its way. But who are the “They” are that treat the live (or green) wood this way? Is it  Rome, the Jews, humanity or God? Most likely it’s the last. Which means, approximately:

If God does this in judging his own Son for the sake of forgiveness, what will his judgment look like on those who reject his offer?

The point is that if it is possible for green wood to burn, then what will it be like for wood that is tinder dry? Isaiah makes much the same point, warning Israel that an all-consuming forest fire is dangerously imminent:

“Therefore, the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
    will send a wasting disease upon his sturdy warriors;
under his pomp a fire will be kindled
    like a blazing flame.
17 The Light of Israel will become a fire,
    their Holy One a flame;
in a single day it will burn and consume
    his thorns and his briers.
18 The splendour of his forests and fertile fields
    it will completely destroy,
    as when one who is ill wastes away.
19 And the remaining trees of his forests will be so few
    that a child could write them down.”  (Isaiah 10:16-19).

The tragedy, Jesus says, is not his death but the nation’s failure to choose deliverance, life and forgiveness. The failure to choose correctly about Jesus has grave consequences.  

The underlying idea of the ancient proverb is that if people foolishly try to start a fire with a green tree that won’t ignite, what trouble will they kindle with a dry tree that will burn? The world was about to find out.

In less than a generation, Jerusalem was deforested and set to the torch, the temple buildings leveled so “not one stone is left standing upon another,” and the populace enslaved or slaughtered. The siege of Jerusalem and the aftermath was a terrible time for mothers and their babies. Women with no dead child to mourn were indeed blest, just as Jesus said.

On the day when Jesus spoke to the daughters of Jerusalem, they took the green tree and nailed the Saviour of the world to it.

But don’t cry for him: For better or worse, we are his progeny. And “In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus… an inheritance that can never perish… kept in heaven for you.”  (1 Peter 1: 3, 4)

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