Were You There?

The last week of Jesus’ earthly life is called the Passion Week.  It’s an appropriate name for that week since the word “passion” is derived from the Latin word for “suffering.”  Certainly our Lord did suffer during the latter part of that week, but on the first day of the week He seemed to be at the height of His earthly glory.  Enthusiastic crowds cheered Him as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, amidst shouts of “Hosanna” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

I’ve sometimes wondered how the same people who, earlier in the week, worshiped Jesus as the anointed one could, later in the week, join the crowd in shouting “Crucify Him!”  How could they have turned on Him so quickly and definitively?  Would I have done the same thing?  When reading the gospels, we all have the advantage of knowing the full story of Jesus’ life in hindsight.  It is easy for us to judge their actions as irrational, believing that we would have behaved differently.  But we should not be so quick to render judgment.

In the four gospel accounts of Jesus life, Passion Week takes up just over 1/4 of the book of Luke, 1/3 of the books of Matthew and Mark, and almost 1/2 of the book of John.  A review of the events that took place during the final week of Jesus’ life reveals that Jesus is not portrayed in Matthew, Mark, and Luke as the meek and mild encourager and healer that typically fills our recollections of the life of the Savior.  Consider Jesus’ actions during the week:

  • As Jesus entered Jerusalem, even as the crowds were lauding Him, Jesus wept over Jerusalem, lamenting its doomed fate “because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
  • Jesus took up a whip and cleansed the temple, offending the scribes, the chief priests, and all who were there.
  • He cursed the fig tree because it bore no fruit, implicating the nation of Israel for the same offense.
  • He embarrassed the chief priests and elders when they questioned His authority to do the things He was doing.
  • Jesus told the parable of the two sons, condemning the Israelites by saying “tax collectors and harlots will enter the kingdom of Heaven before you.”
  • He told the parable of the wicked vinedressers and concluded “the Kingdom of God will be taken from you (Israel) and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.”
  • In the parable of the wedding feast, Jesus again implicates the nation of Israel as the invited guests who were not worthy to attend.  In the parable the king, whose son was getting married, instructed his servants to invite anyone else they found after destroying the invited guests.  The message was clear to those listening.
  • Jesus perplexes the Pharisees when they tried to trap Him by asking about whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar.
  • He shamed the Sadducees when they asked Him about the resurrection.
  • He Pharisees were embarassed again when He asked them “How can David call his son Lord?”
  • He pronounced a number of “woes” against the scribes and Pharisees, calling them hypocrites.
  • Jesus again lamented over Jerusalem, saying “See, your house is left to you desolate.”
  • He predicted a violent end to the temple and the destruction of Jerusalem.
  • Jesus tells the parable of the faithful and evil servants, with the evil servant clearly representing unbelieving Israel.
  • In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, He again indicts those who were found not ready to receive the bridegroom, who is the Messiah.
  • He told the parable of the talents and the judgment of those who did not bear fruit in keeping with what they had been given.
  • Jesus explains that the final judgment will be based on how they treated Him as the Son of Man.
  • He rebuked the disciples at their becoming indignant when the woman anointed His head with costly perfume.
  • He accurately predicted that Judas would betray Him, Peter would deny Him, and that the other disciples would stumble because of Him.
  • He rebuked Peter, James, and John for sleeping during His travail in the garden.
  • Jesus was accused of blaspheming God when He stated that He (Jesus) would come on the clouds and be seated at the right hand of God.
  • He verified before Pilate that He was indeed “the King of the Jews.”  The people most likely heard Him, and many were obviously offended.

How would we have reacted to Jesus’ behavior during the Passover week had we been there?  I suspect that many or most of us would have followed the lead of the scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, and we, too, would have been offended as Jesus pointed His holy finger at us.  We might have even shouted “Crucify Him!” with the angry mob.

When I was young, I was haunted by the words to the old Negro spiritual, “Were You There?”  Perhaps it would be good to reflect on the words of this song and on the above as we each ask ourselves how we would have behaved had we been there:

Were You There?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Other verses:

Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?

Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?

Were you there when they rolled away the stone?

May God grant us the repentance that leads to life.  Even if our response to His rebukes would have been appropriate in recognizing His lordship, it was our sins that nailed Him to the tree.  So, in that respect, we were there.

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