The Way of the Cross

Luke 23:26-32

Luke As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.

Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, 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 men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.
Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

The devotion of the way of the cross finds its roots in Luke's passion story. He alone gives details about events along that final stretch of Jesus' journey from Galilee. The Messiah who has "set his face toward Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51) would now come to the summit of his journey to God.

As the execution detail leads Jesus from the Governor's palace to the rock quarry outside the gates of the city where public executions took place, they impound Simon of Cyrene, a passerby, to carry the cross of Jesus. Luke's wording makes it clear that he sees in the figure of Simon an image of discipleship: Simon takes up the cross of Jesus and carries it "behind Jesus". The phrase is identical to Jesus' own teaching on discipleship: "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple" (Lk 14:27). Those who would live the way of Jesus must be willing to pour out their life on behalf of others.

The sense of urgent crisis reasserts itself in Luke's story. The Jerusalem crowds are not all hostile to Jesus. Even though some joined in condemning him there are others who lament this tragedy (23:27). As the prophets had before him, Jesus warns the people of Jerusalem that sin has its consequences. Tears were not needed for Jesus but for the havoc that evil would bring upon the people of the Holy City. Luke's Gospel has ambivalent feelings about Jerusalem. From one point of view, it was the city of God, the locus of the temple where Jesus began his life and where the early community would gather in prayer after the resurrection. "From Jerusalem" the gospel would stream out into the world. But Jerusalem was also the murderer of the prophets and the symbol of rejection. Luke and the early church interpreted the terrible suffering that befell Jerusalem during the revolt against Rome in A.D.70 as a sign of sin's ultimate effect.

Luke adds one final, poignant detail to his description of Jesus' journey to the cross; with him march two criminals. The Jesus who had been described by his opponents as a "friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Lk 7:34) would not only live with such friends but die with them.

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