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20 March 2018

The mourning of Jerusalem’s daughters.

And Jesus’s cryptic-sounding response to them, which ain’t all that cryptic when you know your history.

Luke 23.26-31.

Only Luke tells this part of the story.

Luke 23.26-31 KWL
26 As the Romans led Jesus away, they grabbed Simon, a certain Cyrenian coming from the fields,
and they put the crossbeam on him to carry behind Jesus.
27 Many crowds of people followed Jesus.
The mourning women among them were also lamenting him.
28 Turning to the women, Jesus said, “Jerusalem’s daughters, don’t weep for me.
But weep for your own. For your children. 29 Look, the time’s coming when they’ll say,
‘The sterile, wombs which never begat children, breasts which never fed, are awesome!’
30 Then they’ll start ‘to tell the mountains, “Fall on us!” and the hills, “Bury us!” ’ Ho 18.1
31 For if they do this when the wood is moist, what’ll happen when it’s dry?”

Some teachers never can stop teaching. Even when they’re being dragged off to be crucified.

Various Christians don’t know what to make of this passage, so they skip it. Which is easy to do when there are so many other horrors to focus on when it comes to Jesus’s death. Skip the message to Jerusalem’s daughters and focus on Simon having to carry Jesus’s crossbeam, or Jesus getting nailed up between two insurgents. Lessons can easily get lost in the shuffle.

But St. John Paul made this lesson its own station of the cross, probably ’cause he figured it was worth zooming in on this particular event. Meditating on what the women were feeling. Meditating on how Jesus felt about that. Meditating on what he told them, and why he said it.

So let’s get into why he said it.

Great tribulation in less than 40 years.

Jesus was crucified in the year 33 of our era. In the year 66, the Romans finally had enough of Judean insurrection and sent in the army to put a stop to it, once and for all.

The cause of the insurrection? Judeans who wouldn’t recognize Jesus is their Messiah and join the Christians. Instead they kept waiting for some other king to save them from the Romans and lead their people to greatness. Someone violent and wrathful—kinda like they were!—and eager to call down legions of angels to smite the Romans in precisely the way Jesus wouldn’t. Mt 26.53 They kept embracing fake Messiahs, kept irritating the Romans, and kept presuming God was gonna send him some other savior… ’cause they didn’t really care for the Nazarene. Too much grace. Not enough rage.

So what d’you think would happen? Right: First the Jerusalem prefect started arresting senior Judean leaders. This turned into full-on revolt. The legate of Syria sent in his army; the Judeans defeated ’em. Emperor Nero sent in his top general, Titus Flavius Vespasianus, and over the course of four years, Vespasianus (later known as Emperor Vespasian) and his son (later Emperor Titus) defeated the rebels, laid siege to Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple. Judea was flattened, Jerusalem laid waste, hundreds of thousands crucified, the Sadducees dead, and the Jews scattered round the world yet again.

Jesus not only knew this was coming, Mk 13.1-2 but warned his followers to watch out, then run for the hills. Mk 10.14-20 And not to confuse it with his second coming, Mk 10.21-23 for that comes later. Mk 10.24-27 Not that plenty of Christians don’t still confuse this period of great tribulation with his second coming, or imagine Jesus’s prophecy hasn’t happened yet, but has yet to happen in our own future. But that’s only because they’re following certain self-proclaimed “prophecy scholars” instead of Jesus. He did warn us about false teachers, y’know.

So that’s what this was. Jesus was prophesying, yet again, that terrible stuff was ahead. Jerusalem’s daughters shouldn’t be weeping for him, but weeping for the future that their leaders were dragging them into. It was gonna be awful.

Mark 13.17-20 KWL
17 “How sad for pregnant women and nursing mothers, in those days!
18 Pray it doesn’t happen during winter.
19 Those days will be tribulation like it’s never been.
From the first thing God created, to now, it’s never been this bad.
20 If the Lord didn’t cut off the days, no flesh would survive.
But he chose to cut off the days because of his chosen people.”

Some of the reason “prophecy scholars” claim Jesus has to be talking about events in our future, is because they can’t imagine the events of the Jewish-Roman War were the worst suffering that’s ever been. But you notice Jesus didn’t say that it’s the worst suffering ever—only the worst it’s been from creation till his day. It’s fair to say humanity’s committed much worse atrocities since, but Jesus wasn’t talking about since.

And Jesus didn’t want this.

Matthew 23.37-38 KWL
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, slayer of prophets, stoner of those I sent you.
So many times I’ve wanted to gather your children together, like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.
You didn’t. 38 Look, your nest is left empty.”

He wanted what he’s always wanted: For them to be his people, and for him to be their God. Ex 6.7, Lv 26.12, Jr 30.22 Well, their king, walking among them in a way they never imagined he would. Still, he wanted a relationship, and they rejected him. So their rejection would bring them destruction. He didn’t have to lift a finger to judge them; disaster would come on its own.

But it wasn’t any of these people—the crowds who grieved for him, the women who lamented for him—who were complicit in his death and Judea’s destruction. They weren’t in leadership. They had no power to change anything. Judea wasn’t a democracy, y’know. Still, when the great tribulation came, if they didn’t flee for the hills along with the Christians, they were doomed along with the rest. So as they lamented for Jesus, he lamented for them.

Like Hosea: History repeating itself.

A number of bibles utterly miss the fact Jesus quoted Hosea in verse 30. They notice people in Revelation likewise call the mountains to foll on them, Rv 6.16 but—largely because people really need to read the Prophets and don’t—they don’t catch that both Jesus and John were referring to a 7-century-old prophecy about the coming destruction of Ephraim, the land of northern Israel, ruled by the king of Samaria.

Hosea 10.1-8 KWL
1 Israel’s a premium vine. Its fruit is just like it—it’s abundant fruit.
It has many good altars in the land. Good watchtowers.
2 Nowadays its minds are full of themselves. They’re guilty.
God breaks their altars’ necks. He lays the watchtowers waste.
3 For now they say, “We’ve no king. We don’t respect the LORD. What would a king do for us?
4 They speak words, swear empty oaths, cut covenants. They sprout judgment like weeds in a field’s furrows.
5 For the cows of Beth Aven, they fear their neighbor Samaria, as they mourn for it and its people,
and its priests rejoice over it, over the glory which was removed from it.
6 As for its people, they’re carried to Assyria as an offering to Assyria’s king.
Ephraim is taken. Israel is ashamed of its counsel. 7 Samaria’s king is ruined like a stick left in the water.
8 Aven’s high worship sites—Israel’s sins—are destroyed. Thorns and thistles grow on their altars.
They say to the mountains, “Hide us,” and to the hills, “Fall on us.”

Like the people of Jesus’s day, the Ephraimites and Samarians presumed they were wealthy and safe, ’cause they followed their gods and had strong fortifications. Didn’t follow the LORD any. Didn’t really follow their king either. Sound familiar?

What happened next? The cycle reached the point where their enemies invaded. Israel’s foes, in this case the Assyrian Empire, got to be successful against ’em: They wouldn’t turn to the LORD when times were good, so he’d sit on the sidelines when times got very, very bad. The Assyrians invaded Ephraim, captured the king, rounded up the inhabitants of the major cities, and scattered ’em all over the empire.

Nowadays we call ’em “the 10 lost tribes,” although the only actual lost Israelis were the deported city dwellers. The survivors either fled to southern Israel, i.e. Judah/Judea; or they intermarried with the people the Assyrians relocated to Israel, and became the Samaritans; or they rejoined their fellow Israelis when the Babylonians conquered and scattered Judah two centuries later.

It’s the survivors of whom Hosea made the comment, “They say to the mountains, ‘Hide us,’ and to the hills, ‘Fall on us.’ ” Ho 10.8 They were running for their lives—running for the hills, to hide in them, same as David ben Jesse and various other fugitives had done throughout Israeli history. But they were also in despair. Hence they really wouldn’t mind if the caves they were hiding in, just happened to cave in on ’em.

’Cause tribulation’s gonna get bad. If the Romans were crucifying peaceful Nazarene prophets during the relatively good times, imagine what they’d do during the bad times. Or as Jesus put it, “If they do this when the wood is moist, what’ll happen when it’s dry?” Lk 23.31

It’s not a happy message Jesus had for the women. But be fair; he was having just the worst day.