Women of The Passion:
Daughters of Jerusalem
We could see those Romans had done their worst. Soldiers don’t have a lot of fun most of the time except playing cards and betting. Not much entertainment for them really, here in Jerusalem. When this Jesus fell into their hands and they heard that he had said he was the King of the Jews, they had had a field-day. They’d jammed a makeshift crown made of thorns onto his head and the blood was trickling down, into his eyes. He was covered with bruises from their abuse and assault and they were still mocking him. They’d obviously spared him nothing.
By the time they had pushed him, staggering under the weight of his cross through the streets and up the hill, to where we were, he could hardly put one foot in front of the other. Finally, he stumbled and fell. They collared a passer-by to carry the cross for him.
It was terrible but we were drawn into the crowd and the drama of it all. We weren't quite sure why we were following this man to the crucifixion site – crucifixions were common enough, after all. We knew that the Romans had been cruel to him and we knew he was going to die. We didn’t know his name or really care about him. True, there was something unusual about him for a criminal. He was certainly no Barabbas. It didn’t seem fair. So, although we didn’t exactly know why, we became his supporters. Then someone started to wail and we all joined in. A good wail can often have nothing to do with your feelings for the dying or dead person. But it can help you feel better sometimes.
Then, suddenly, he stopped in his tracks. He turned around and looked straight at us and he said something I can’t get out of my mind. “Don’t cry for me,” he said. “Cry for yourselves and your children.”
Think about it - someone staggering along the road to crucifixion, telling a bystander not to cry for him. He was going to cruel and certain death. We were going home to the comfort of our families. And yet he told us to cry for our children. What could he mean?
Heaven knows, I do shed plenty of tears, real tears for my children. Like all mothers, I want to protect them from harm. I wonder what will become of them. It’s a frightening world we live in. Roman soldiers are always on the streets and crucifying people like this young man – Jesus of Nazareth, they called him. Someone said he was the son of a carpenter. So, did he mean that his death wouldn’t be the end - our children were going to have to suffer just as he was? Maybe.
But the more I have thought about it, the more I think he was somehow, in the middle of his own woe, wanting to warn us of danger to come which we could do something about. He wanted to make us recognise the value of our lives as mothers and what we were doing. He was preparing us to think more seriously about all the trouble in our world – and in our own families. Later on, when we got to the cross, we heard him say, ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.’ And we didn’t know what we were doing. We just followed the crowd without really asking ourselves – what is going on here?
If we had stopped to ask ourselves about what was really going on and why it had happened, we might have thought more seriously about the sort of wickedness that was taking a good person like him to the cross. We might have seen some connection between his unjust crucifixion and the sort of everyday evil that continues to happen in all our lives and all our families. We might have thought about the casual selfishness and the everyday bad-mouthing of people who didn’t really deserve it. We might have thought about the quarrels and the fights, the mocking malice and the meanness – exactly the sort of blind spots that brought Jesus to the cross. We might have asked whether mothers like us could do anything to stop it. We might have recognised that we are all much more like the Roman soldiers than we like to admit – laughing and playing games without really thinking what we are doing.
Sentimental wringing of hands and beating of breasts, wailing and moaning about things that other, evil people do may make you feel better. But, in the end, it doesn’t do much to make you a better person. Weeping and praying for yourself and for your children, changing your own life and doing what you can to make things better in your own family might have more effect.
* I wrote and broadcast a version of this on BBC Radio 2 Pause for Thought in a series on Women in the Bible.