March 11, 2010
The Stoic philosophers Seneca and Epictetus taught others to be immune to misfortune. They promoted
apatheia (apathy). Stoic apathy basically meant keeping calm and composed when faced with the highs and lows of life. To be virtuous was to be indifferent to constant change. It meant not being carried away by too much joy or too much pleasure. Such a concept was foreign to the Biblical mentality.
When the Ark of the Covenant was brought to Jerusalem, David took off some of his clothes to the displeasure of his wife Michal and danced wildly before the Ark (cf. 2 Sam 6:12-16). Even though Absalom had led a rebellion against his father King David, when Absalom was slain, David bitterly wept with incontrollable sorrow for his prodigal son (cf. 2 Sam 18:19-33). The women of Jerusalem seeing Jesus carrying his Cross to the place of execution wailed and cried out loud. They were deeply moved by his suffering and they gave voice to their sorrow. Stoic indifference was not part of their upbringing.
Jesus himself never met suffering with Stoic indifference. He was touched by the cries of the Syro-Phoenician woman pleading for her daughter’s health and cured her. He was amazed at the faith of the Gentile centurion begging for the life of his servant and made him well. He saw the tears of the woman caught in adultery and forgave her.
When traveling through the village of Nain, Jesus could not pass a mother weeping at the funeral of her only son without feeling sorry for her. So moved was he by her grief that, without even a request from her lips, he said to her “Do not weep” (Lk 7:13) and then restored her dead son to life. When Jesus, the only son of his widowed mother, was on the way to his own death on the Cross, he addressed those same words to the women of Jerusalem. “Daughters of Jerusalem,
do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children” (Lk 23:28).
This is not the first time that the title “Daughters of Jerusalem” appears in Scripture. In the Song of Songs, the Daughters of Jerusalem form a chorus that repeatedly urges the young woman to follow her heart. They play a key role in having her forsake the palace of the king for the sake of true love with the young shepherd who seeks to woo her. On the road to Calvary, while others are mocking Jesus and crying out for his blood, these new Daughters of Jerusalem form a chorus mourning and weeping for the Innocent One who suffers. Theirs is a conscience that knows right from wrong and a heart that seeks true love.
These women stand out from the others. In every crowd, there are always those nameless individuals who are good and are not swayed by the mob. It takes real women and real men to be truly countercultural. It takes Catholics alive with Christ to stand up publicly for the Faith and for true morality. As a popular adage says, “Dead bodies float downstream. It takes a live body to swim against the current.”
These women may well have been some of those pious women of the day who were accustomed to offer consolation to those condemned to death. They would give them wine mixed with myrrh to drug the pain of their execution. In any event, these women are unashamed to show their true feelings. How much better society would be if we did not hide our own affection for the Lord Jesus!
Seeing the courage of these women, Jesus turns their thoughts from himself. He directs their sympathy to themselves and to their children. There is a divine self-forgetfulness in Jesus. He is more concerned with their salvation than with his own suffering.
Jesus had completely placed himself and his work into the hands of the Father. He knew that, even though he was dying, the Father would bring his mission to completion. Just a week before, he had said to group of Greeks wishing to see him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24).
Jesus urges the women of Jerusalem to lift their eyes from his present suffering to the future sorrow that they are about to undergo. “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’” (Lk 23:28-30).
Although Jesus speaks directly to the women, his words are meant for all of Israel and for us. As the prophets of old, Jesus addresses these women with the title “Daughters of Jerusalem (cf. Zeph 3:14; Zech 9:9). This is a title for the whole nation. Jesus is giving God’s people a stern warning of the impending doom that will befall them.
Jesus’ words are very strong. He tells the women that, very soon in the near future, being without children will be a blessing. However, this goes against what they normally understood. To have a child was considered a blessing. To be without children, a curse.
Even today, for a family to be childless causes great sadness. Many selfless couples earnestly desire a family and suffer heartbreak when childless. Jacob loved Rachel passionately so much so that he worked fourteen years for his Uncle Laban to have her hand as his bride. Yet, her childlessness caused both Rachel and Jacob great pain. Only after much prayer did Rachel give birth to Joseph and Benjamin.
Motherhood is one of God’s greatest gifts. Sarah longed for a son from Abraham. Hannah cried out loud in the sanctuary of Shiloh, because she was barren. Among the Chosen People, to have children was a great blessing. But, in speaking to the women of Jerusalem, Jesus reverses this for the imminent future, but not for all time. The troubles soon to be visited on God’s people will be so terrible that barrenness will become a blessing. So great will be the destruction in their day that the woman without a child at that time will have less suffering than the mother who must watch her child suffer and die. The present sorrow of the Daughter of Jerusalem mourning Jesus would pale before the impending woe.
Jesus’ prophecy would soon become historical fact.
To be continued…..