The Green Tree


“As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely 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.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’” (Luke 23:26-31 NRSV).

During my earliest years of life, my mother, brothers and I sat near the back during Mass, towards the middle. From time to time we would sit more towards the side, though, especially on special occasions when we had a bigger attendance. When we did sit nearer the walls, I had a chance to get a good long look at some of the ornate stained-glass windows of saints and a few of the stations of the cross.

How the stations mystified my pre-K mind! I knew something awful and strange was happening, but I didn’t yet understand the story of Jesus’ suffering and death. I probably meditated on the stations as much as any adult there ever had!

With all this contemplation, there are things we miss. We are so quick to make Jesus’ story relevant to our own that we often don’t take time to make sure we really understand what he saw as his purpose and place in God’s great plan. Though it’s been a fact I’ve "known” since adolescence, I’ve only recently begun to understand what it meant for Jesus to be a prophet in Israel.

Isaiah was once called to go barefoot and naked (I’m not sure what the debate is, but I’ve noticed that conservative commentators usually don’t accept that he was completely “in the buff,” so to speak) as a sign to Egypt of their coming judgment at the hands of the Assyrians (see Isaiah 20). Ezekiel apparently spent days and days first on one side, then on the other, as a symbol of a coming siege of Jerusalem and judgment of Israel and Judah (see Ezekiel 4). Regarding Ezekiel, one odd little point is that lying on one side he was to “bear the punishment of the house of Israel,” and on the other side he would “bear the punishment of the house of Judah.” Hosea was actually commanded to marry a prostitute as part of an elaborate demonstration of God’s love of Israel see Hosea 1:1-9 and my previous post on this prophet’s unique calling). All this is to demonstrate that God often called His prophets to do extraordinary things in order to carry forward His redemptive plan and work.

With the above in mind, return now to Jesus being led away to Golgotha. The women of Israel are weeping for him, but he tells them to worry more about themselves and their children. Judgment is coming, and this judgment is being vividly portrayed in his crucifixion. Israel’s long-awaited Messiah came, but he was rejected by the religious leaders who couldn’t fit him into their agendas and handed over to the Gentiles for execution. If it was so while the tree is green, with the true King of Israel, then how much more terrible it would be decades later with the nation of Israel when the wood was dry?

In and through Jesus, God was declaring judgment against Jerusalem, the promised return from exile and the reconstitution of Israel as the people of God through faith. Outside the city gates Israel’s anointed died an excruciating and prophetic death both as a warning of coming judgment against that city, and as the decisive victory of God over the powers and authorities of this world.

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