March 18, 2010
Within forty years of Jesus’ death, Jerusalem lay in ruins. The Roman army led by the future Emperor Titus, lay siege to the Holy City and utterly destroyed it. Buildings crumbled to the ground. Cedar roofs turned to ashes. Like a volcano gone wild, the heights of Jerusalem spewed deadly fumes. The all engulfing fire hurled the Temple stones, some weighing 50 and 100 tons, down like pebbles at the mercy of the angry tempest. The Temple was razed. Even to the Roman soldiers, the sight of Jerusalem ablaze with flames and fallen was an appalling spectacle.
The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, claims that 1,100,000 people were killed during the siege. 97,000 were captured and enslaved. All this took place on the 10th of August, in A.D. 70 (the 9th of Av, in Jewish reckoning). This was the very day when the King of Babylon had burned the Temple in 586 B.C.
Jesus had warned about this impending disaster when he spoke to the Daughters of Jerusalem on his way to the Cross. He had said, “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!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Lk 23:28-31). Thus, when Titus torched the city and destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem, Jesus’ words became fact.
The same message that Jesus spoke to the women of Jerusalem, he publicly said to all. When teaching in the Temple on the Tuesday of the last week of his life, Jesus spoken vividly in apocalyptic terms about the coming destruction. He said, “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that its desolation is at hand…for these days are the time of punishment…Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days, for a terrible calamity will come upon the earth and a wrathful judgment upon this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken as captives to all the Gentiles; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles…” (Lk 21:20-24; cf. also Mt 24: 15-21; Mk 13:14-19).
In repeating this message to the women of Jerusalem before he is crucified, Jesus quotes a proverb. He says, “If these things are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Lk 23:31). What do these enigmatic words of Jesus mean?
In the proverb, the expression “when the wood is green” is placed in opposition to the expression “when it [the wood] is dry.” “When the wood is green” represents a time when things are flourishing and there is freedom to grow. “When it [the wood] is dry” represents a time when life becomes barren and arid, when life is oppressive and difficult. In the proverb, the passive voice is used. This is a polite way to avoid naming the intended subjects. But, the subjects can easily be supplied. In the first part of the proverb, the subject is the Jewish people: in the second part, it is the Romans.
With this proverb, Jesus is telling his own people that, if they treat him as they do with such cruelty in his passion and death when they are not being forced to do so by the Romans, how much more harshly will the Romans treat them when they deal with their rebellion. Jesus is delicately predicting the inevitable consequence of turning from the truth that God gives us His warning is not limited to the people of his day.
When we turn away from God and sin, we suffer. Greed, pride, and envy lead to dissension. When these sins are translated into imperialistic nationalism and aggressive economic competition, at times they tragically escalate into wars. There comes a point when even reform cannot stay the punishment for sin. This is never a popular message. But Jesus is too concerned for our welfare not to speak the truth.
To be continued...