Luke 23:18-31                 “Weep for Yourselves”


            Today we are continuing on with the Passion of Christ. Last week I mentioned what happened to one of the witnesses of that day. That was Pontius Pilate. I mentioned that he was finally brought to the faith in Christ. According to the historian Tertulian, Pilate went to Rome to give his testimony about Christ to the Roman Emperor, who was unfortunately Caligula at the time. Pilate was thrown over the balcony into the Tiber river and drowned.

            In the scripture for today, I want us to focus on another three witnesses named in the Bible. They are Barabbas, Simon of Cyrene, and of course the women who were at the Cross when Jesus died there. Each of these witnesses are unique in the understanding of who Christ was and is to us today.


            Barabbas: We must read carefully what the Bible tells us about Barabbas. Some might conclude that he was a murderer from what Luke writes. However, Mark carefully writes that Barabbas was merely being held with others who had committed murder during the insurrection. Luke states that he is charged, but does not say he was guilty in any way. It is not clear that Barabbas had murdered anybody. It is not even really clear that Barabbas was even truly involved in an insurrection of some sort. John in his Gospel says that he was a robber bandit. Really all we know is that he was being held in prison at the same time as Jesus’ trial, and it is clear that Barabbas was scheduled to be crucified.

            The custom was to release one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Of course, it makes sense to release the prisoner who would do the least harm upon his release—best if it were indeed someone who might have been falsely accused. It would be even better if the person were a stranger to Jerusalem that they might just want to leave the city quickly upon his release. Jesus, being a Galilean from Nazareth and who is certainly falsely accused, would seem to be the perfect candidate for that Passover release.

            Barabbas is released rather than Jesus because the chief priests went out into the mob and stirred them up to cry for the release of Barabbas rather than Jesus.  I will just put it out there: one should never have an excited mob decide such things as prisoner releases–or even who should be President.  One should imagine that the priests were whispering into people’s ears, passing a few bribes around, making a few promises that they never intended to keep in order to get the people to turn against Jesus.

            What would have been Barabbas’ witness to Christ? First, we don’t know actually know from the Bible what happened to Barabbas after his release. There is a church tradition that is written in other sources that says that Barabbas actually went to watch Jesus die on the Cross. It is hard to imagine what he would have felt if that were the case. Could you imagine what it would be like to see somebody else die in your place like that?

            There was a movie that came out in 1962 with Anthony Quinn as the lead. The movie was based on a book entitled Barabba in which the character of Barabbas is so moved by Christ’s death and resurrection that he changes his ways and becomes a true witness for Christ.  I love that movie. It shows how even a criminal can be changed by the sacrifice that Christ made.

            Indeed, we are all changed. In the story of Barabbas is the basic point that Christ died for all of our sins. Christ died innocently on the Cross because of the crimes against God that we have committed. Christ has taken our place in death so that we might know eternal life. What would it feel like to watch someone die in your place? It would feel like being a Christian! We know that Christ sacrificed for us. He took the bullet that had our names on it. We owe him our lives. We live our lives today in total and utter gratitude for that incredible sacrifice made for us!


            Simon of Cyrene: Luke tells us that he was an innocent by-stander who was pressed into service to carry the Cross of Christ. Again, we know almost nothing about this man except that he was from Africa, because that is where Cyrene is. He was most likely someone who had come to Jerusalem on a Pilgrimage of a lifetime to spend the Passover Feast in the Holy City. He must have been frightened when the Roman soldier approached him to carry the Cross. Can you imagine if you were asked by a police officer to throw the switch on an electric chair so that a person might die? Could you imagine having a gun pressed into your hand by a soldier? Could you imagine carrying the Cross of the Son of God?

            This is a major part of the Christian life that we all have a Cross that we must bear for God in heaven. Jesus himself said that we would all have to pick up the Cross in order to follow him. Let us just quickly read Jesus’ own words in Matthew 16:24-26, “. . . If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who would lose their life for my sake will find it.”

            There is a question with Simon of Cyrene: Why didn’t he just slip into the crowd and disappear rather than be forced by the soldiers to carry the Cross for Christ? This translates in our faith as the question as to why do we choose to take up the burden of ministry ourselves? Being a Christian is the hardest thing there is to do on this planet! Why don’t we just run the other way?! Why do we try to convince people of the promise of eternal salvation when they seem perfectly content already with their eternal damnation? Why do we try to do what Jesus said and actually love our enemies? Why do we pick up that Cross? Why did Simon of Cyrene when he could have run?

            This has been the question down through the ages. Even Saint Peter (You remember him from when we read how he denied Jesus three times and broke down and wept .)  met his fate on a Cross. He was crucified as Jesus had been, but the story is that he did not even feel worthy to die as Christ had, so he was crucified upside down on his Cross. 

            Why do we bear the burden of the Cross? We are bound to follow Christ where he leads—even if that is to Golgotha. Simon of Cyrene quietly picked up Jesus’ Cross and followed Jesus up that hill.


            The women: What witness do the women have of the death of Jesus? First, we must realize that it is clear from all the Gospel texts that these women supported Jesus during his ministry and that they stayed with him through the difficult time of his passion up until the time of his resurrection.

            These women did not run and hide themselves as the other disciples had done. They stayed right there to comfort Jesus as much as they were able through their presence. They prayed to God on their knees as Jesus was tormented. They were his prayer support team and most loyal followers.

            These women have the greatest witness of all. They set the standard for Christian behavior. And, that standard is based on one very real Christian value that we call “humility.” Humility means to behave without self-pride. Humility means that you put the other person’s life ahead of your own. As Christ was humbly dying on the Cross for our sins, these women were humbly staying by him and giving all of themselves in prayer and support.

            I know that the reason that the mobs of people who had been against Jesus and his disciples, the chief priests, and the Roman soldiers left the women alone is that they could see that they were utterly humble and sincere in their actions. This is very disarming to others to see people act in complete selflessness.

            Now I want to make sure that we do not confuse the virtue of humility with obedience. The fact that these women were there supporting Christ in his hour of need was not an act of obedience. It was humility alone. One could argue that the women were being anything but obedient. They probably were warned not to go to Golgotha to see Christ die. The soldiers probably did tell them to stay away. Yet, they were there. I have to mention this because for a long time in the Christian church, women, specifically nuns, were held to an order of obedience.  I really have to point out that these women were not obeying any orders. Jesus did not tell them to be there! Jesus did not tell them to come to the tomb later to anoint him with spices. What they did was out of spirit-directed humility and love only. Their witness is humble love of Christ.

            The great German feminist theologian Dorothee Soelle describes this action as women coming together not out of obedience but rather solidarity with Christ (Strength of the Weak, p. 114)! And that is the essence of their witness: humility of spirit and solidarity with Christ. What a truly blessed witness that is. Without their witness to the death and resurrection of Christ, we would not have the faith today.


            What will your witness of Christ be? Christ died for you. He bore the Cross in pain for the relief of your sins. Will you pick up the Cross and follow? Will you humbly live in solidarity with him? What will your witness be? Will you weep for Jesus too? Amen