Jesus and two other criminals destined for execution are driven through the city to the place where they will be crucified. All three have been beaten, scourged, in preparation for death. Jesus is so weak he cannot carry his own crossbeam. He stumbles under its weight and probably lays exhausted from the torture he has already endured. Using their authority, the Roman guards impose upon a bystander, someone simply watching the spectacle, to carry the cross behind Jesus. Simon, of Cyrene hefts the beam to his shoulders and walks behind the beaten and traumatized man.
By this time, about noon, the city is awake and filled with business, preparation for the Passover, a holy Sabbath. But news of Jesus’ arrest and trial, his impending execution, escaped no one. People line the streets. People follow the procession of the condemned. This is a normal spectacle throughout history. Public executions are public affairs and people come to watch, to gossip, to be amused and entertained. This execution is no exception. Except that one of the people condemned is a well know teacher with many followers who has done nothing wrong or deserving of death. Many of the people following were part of the mob demanding Jesus’ life be taken. Many were just passersby’s, in the city for the feast. But, many were women and devoted followers of Jesus. “And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him” [Luke 23:27 ESV]. Luke describes the scene with people, specifically women, wailing and beating their breasts. A man they loved had been horribly beaten and tortured and was now being driven to inescapable death. They are watching him be dragged and driven, stumbling and barely able to walk, through the streets toward a place outside of the city where the Roman’s executed those who had broken their laws or threatened their sovereignty.
During this time, probably at a stumble, while he is down on his knees, Jesus turns to speak with the people. He knows them by name. He knows their hearts and the truth of their anguish over his fate. Always the teacher, always the compassionate lover of people, he continues to instruct and direct the thinking of their hearts. “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” [Luke 23:28 ESV]. He is not directing his words to them personally but to them as representatives of the nation of Israel. He is not standing erect with one finger in the air lecturing these women. He is on his knees. His breath is coming hard and with rasps. His head is bowed and his strength is quickly ebbing. His words are not spoken with strength and vigor but whispered and forced. Jesus is already dying. He knows he is dying and will soon be dead. He is not afraid to die even the death he is facing. But he knows something they do not know. He knows many things they do not know. While his words sound mystical and surreal coming from a man who will soon be dead his resurrection undergirds and validates the force of his words. Don’t weep for his death for he must die first then be raised. Weep instead for what will happen to your nation, the children of your children as they face the future which is dire and filled with grief.
Jesus has already spoken about the future, what will happen. His people, the Jews, and his followers, soon to be called Christians, will face persecution and horror. They will be driven from place to place. Those who are parents will watch their children suffer and will be unable to do anything, which is the greatest agony. They will pray for death, to be hidden and removed from the world. “For behold, the days are 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'” [Luke 23:29-30 ESV]. People will face such agony they will feel compelled to do wicked and unthinkable things just to stay alive. Jesus is predicting the future. This is not an unusual prediction. He could see the present, the political climate, the tension between nation and nation, people and people, and say with fair accuracy the future would be explosive. But, he knows more than the obvious.
Now he makes a statement describing what is happening to him. He has done nothing wrong. Pilate and Herod both affirmed his innocence. In fact, everything he did was right. He healed people. He taught them about God though in a way which contradicted the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees, which is why they wanted him dead. They cut down a tree in full bloom yielding nutritious fruit for no reason. “For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry” [Luke 23:31 ESV]? If he is being murdered then no one is safe. If they circumvent the laws of God, ignoring their own responsibility to it, in order to remove a man who is completely innocent then their interpretation of the law of God will lead them anywhere they wish. If the laws of Rome can be nullified by a Governor simply through cultural pressure then there is no moral foundation for the existence of such laws. Law, especially moral law, ignored or changed and reinterpreted at a whim is no law but anarchy. No one is safe under these circumstances. It is better to have never lived than to live under such total disregard for people and the protection given them by law.