As Jesus is on His way to crucifixion in Luke’s gospel, He continues to preach to Israel and to warn her about the days ahead. But what Jesus says may surprise us. When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus. And following Him was a large crowd of people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 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 say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills ‘Cover us.’ For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Luke 23:26-30 If this was a last sermon of an evangelical pastor, most of us would give him a failing grade. There is no discernible warning about a post-mortem judgment, (i.e. “Hell”), no apparent offer of salvation, and no explanation of the purpose of the suffering He is Himself enduring and is about to endure. But actually, all those things are in fact there but they may have a significantly different form than we are used to recognizing. Jesus’ words to these women may surprise us because it is not what we expect to be central to the gospel message, but it is in fact not out of the blue nor is it the first time that Jesus has said anything like this. In fact, this is a final appeal of a constant effort to get Israel to repent of her violent revolutionary ideas and her own vision of the kingdom of God which did not match with the reality of God’s own vision articulated and enacted by Jesus. But what does it matter? Jesus will be crucified shortly and any idea that His Kingdom would be established on the physical earth as it is in heaven is certainly to be crucified with Him, is it not? Many American Christians would think so. Nevertheless, Jesus doesn’t change His tune. Jesus doesn’t appeal to the souls of these women, but He appeals to their minds. “Look what they are doing to me,” he says, “I am not a violent revolutionary and I am being crucified! What do you think they will do to your sons who ARE in fact violent revolutionaries?! You will think that it would have been better not to have had sons…” (Luke 23:30 paraphrased). “Yes, yes, that is all very interesting historically speaking”, we may think, “but when is Jesus going to start preaching the gospel? Will He pass up this golden opportunity and the last one He has before the crucifixion? Will He miss this teaching moment to remind these women that life is temporal and they might die tonight? Does He warn them that their revolutionary sons will go to hell if they don’t believe that He is the Messiah?” If you asked Luke these questions, I am sure that he would say that He has been preaching the gospel the whole time and you weren’t listening! Luke would say that Jesus is indeed warning the daughters of Jerusalem about their sons going to hell, but it is the hell that Rome was going to bring on them for their revolution, not a post-mortem pit of fire. Luke would say with exasperation, “Didn’t you read the rest of my gospel?”
“When I told you the story of the invited dinner guests who dishonored and shamed their host by standing him up on his invitation; and when the host replaced those guests with those less qualified, did you not hear the warning? (Luke 14:16-24) “When you heard about the Prodigal son who had shamed his father, being welcomed and received back home with joy, only to have the older brother then shame the father by refusing to join the party, did you not understand who was the older brother? (Luke 15:11-32) “And when the unfaithful money manager was about to be made to own up to his miss-management, did you not see how he wisely went to make amends so as to escape the coming judgment? (Luke 16:1-9) “And when you heard about the rich man who suddenly found that his riches could not protect him from disaster and whose family would not heed his warnings, even if he should come back from the grave to tell them, did you not understand what was being said? (Luke 16:19-31) “And when Jesus healed ten lepers and only the one foreigner among them came back to give thanks and praise to God, did you not hear the devastating judgment that was being rendered? (Luke 17:11-18) “And when I warned you that days were coming like the days of Noah when they were ‘eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage…and then the flood came and destroyed them all…’ What did you think I was telling you? (Luke 17:20-37) “And when you saw Jesus burst into tears as He entered Jerusalem and lament His desire and His inability to gather her children under His wings, did it not frighten or sober you? (Luke 19:41-44). "And when I enacted the judgment coming upon the temple. Did you take no notice? (Luke 19:45-46) “And now Jesus makes this final appeal to the daughters of Jerusalem and you still look perplexed…." Maybe the reason that Jesus was led to the slaughter like a lamb and like a sheep that is silent before its’ shearers, was simply because no one could comprehend His radical vision. It was simply beyond our expectation and comprehension. We need more than words, we need a person and an act. What Western Christians usually call “the gospel” (some variation of “Jesus died for my sins so that I can go to heaven”) contains much truth. But it is a secondary level of the truth that Luke is wanting to communicate. It is much like putting the emphasis on the wrong syllable, although sometimes this distortion does lead to more serious and problematic issues in a Christian’s life or the life of a Christian culture. The current mess that we are in now regarding ideas of the separation of Church and State and our unguided ideas of sexuality and marriage are just some parts of the fallout for missing the holistic Gospel that Luke’s Jesus is actually proclaiming. The Gospel that Luke says Jesus proclaimed was and is the gospel of the Kingdom of God arriving on earth as it is in heaven. We would do well to spend more time looking closely at what Jesus actually says in Luke’s gospel as opposed to what we expect him to say. Jesus is just as shocking, challenging and exciting today as He ever was.