And following Him was a large crowd of the 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 begin TO 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 23:27-31 NASB)
My dad had a saying, probably shared by thousands of other followers of Jesus, “It’s not the things I don’t understand in the Bible that bother me, it’s the things I do understand.” This passage really fits into one of those “don’t understand” categories, but it does bother me.
Mourner was an actually profession in first century Judea. So, as someone approaches their death, people mourning them was not unusual, some were even paid for it. It was not necessarily typical for those going to their execution. Considering that the crowds of Jerusalem have more or less turned against Jesus, this isn’t expected. And Luke is the only Gospel writer who preserves this detail.
Even more surprising than the mourners is the response of Jesus. By all accounts (except for Luke) He has been scourged, and even in Luke, He can’t carry His own cross. In this weakened state, He still takes a moment to have this lengthy discourse with these women? It just seems out of place. Although it wouldn’t fit somewhere else either.
The mourners are surprising. That Jesus takes the time for this discourse is surprising. And then what He says is, well it’s at least confusing, if not surprising. Jesus tells the mourners to wail for themselves and their children. The days are coming when those with children will be considered cursed, rather than the barren women considered cursed. The barren won’t have to see the end of their own children.
If you look at a reference Bible, you may be sent to Isaiah 2, or Hosea 10, or both. In Isaiah, Jerusalem (daughters of Jerusalem are the ones mourning) is prophesied against. But the rocks and hills aren’t falling on them. In Hosea, the Northern 10 Tribes of Israel (Samaria) are being prophesied against, and here the people want the rocks and hills to fall on them to hide them from God.
Jesus’ reference could simply be a commonly phrased prophecy which He is pronouncing on Jerusalem. Or He could be using a phrase understood as pertaining to Samaria on Jerusalem to make clear He means the whole country, not just the city of Jerusalem. Because He refers to the women as “daughters of Jerusalem”, it’s most likely the first option. Either way, a bad day is approaching. So, once again, we have a prediction of Jerusalem’s destruction in Luke. That makes three (19:41-44; 21:5,6,20-24; 23:28-31). For some commentators, this indicates to them that Luke was written after AD 70, and he is partially explaining why it happened to the Jews. I’m not convinced, even with the detail Luke includes.
Jesus then completes His discourse with the cryptic, “For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it’s dry?” Who is “they”? The “things” are probably His crucifixion, or at least His rejection by the religious leaders. When is the “tree green”, and when is the “tree dry”? The time of the “green tree” is while Jesus is among them, available as a tangible object of faith. After His resurrection and ascension, would then be the “dry” time. But that’s not necessarily the best option. If the ‘things’ are what’s happening then, then the tree is green right then. So, if it has to do with Jesus’ presence, what about His presence makes the tree green?
Green trees are alive, or at least not dormant for winter. Dry trees could be either dead or dormant. Green trees will produce fruit, while dry trees won’t. Perhaps the timing is defined by the availability of fruit? In any case, whichever option is used to define the “green” versus “dry” time, Jesus says the time is coming on them. If He is referring to the destruction in AD 70, then the “green” time is when He is physically among them, and the “dry” time is after He ascends to the Father.
Having said all that, notice that the blame for what comes is left on the “they”. “If they do this when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” What will happen logically follows what they are doing now. Luke is saying that the destruction of Jerusalem is judgement for Jerusalem’s rejection of Jesus. He is crucified for the sins of the world, and the city responsible for carrying that out is judged by God and destroyed.
If Jesus is referring to Hosea earlier, then also tucked away in that chapter is this statement “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Yahweh, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you.” (Hos. 10:12) Even in the midst of a judgement prophecy, there is a call to repent, there is another option than being destroyed.
That’s my “partial” view through the knothole this morning. What’s yours?