As the soldiers 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 childless 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 people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Simon was simply a passer-by, on his way that day into the city when he was seized by the Roman soldiers and forced to carry Jesus’ cross. He had no choice. It’s a small detail in the bigger story. But it raises an interesting question. Is this also how God gets things done in the world?
It was certainly God’s will that his Son would die for the sin of the world. Does that mean all the players in the story – the priests, the scribes, Pilate, Herod, the crowd – were forced into doing what they did and had no choice? No. All had their own reasons for doing what they did, as we have seen. All were responsible. Yet at the same time they did what God in his power and wisdom had decided should happen.
And because people make choices, they have to face the consequences of their choices. Jesus made this clear to some women who followed him along his route to his crucifixion. They were mourning and lamenting over what was happening. The sight of Jesus, beaten and bloodied, being led away to his execution filled them with pity. ‘Such a lovely man’, we can imagine them thinking. ‘How terrible that such things should happen to him!’
The Lord wasn’t interested in this kind of pity. Instead he turned their focus to the implications of the choices that had been made that day. “If people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” That is, if such injustice can be fostered upon the innocent, at the hand of those charged with establishing and upholding truth and morality, and during a time of relative peace and stability under Roman rule, what horrors will be engaged in when faced with the moral and spiritual wasteland that disregard for truth, justice and for God himself will inevitably lead to? Choices have consequences. “Don’t pity me,” said Jesus. “Weep for yourselves and for your children.” This wasn’t a time for pity. It was a time for moral awakening.
In a moral universe, sinful choices don’t simply have consequences. They bring about judgement. As Jesus had warned in the parable of the vineyard, the Owner of the vineyard will not let the reckless, immoral behaviour of the tenants go unpunished. It is no accident that the very next incident Luke records raises the topic of forgiveness and how a person can find complete acceptance with God.