There is a line in the Gospel of Saint Luke which I have read a thousand times and which I have considered at some length just as often.
Saint Luke is describing the Passion of Christ and he relates the moment at which the Lord, carrying His Cross on the way to Golgotha, turns to the weeping women of Jerusalem, who mourn what is happening to Him. The Lord tells them to mourn not for Him but for themselves, for there will come – He says – a terrible moment in which the living will envy the dead. Jesus ends His words by saying to these women –
If they do these things when the wood is green,
what will happen when it is dry?
Looking at Scripture as a whole, it seems evident to me that in many respects, this is the love song of God for humanity, His creation. It begins with the creation of the universe and then of mankind and all the animals of the earth – and is swiftly followed by the faithlessness of man and his forgetfulness of God and His commands.
After this, everything else seems to echo this one theme – the Lord Who loves us, and we who so often neglect and forget Him.
Across the books of the Old Testament, the people of God constantly go far from the Lord, only to return to Him later on – usually in the face of some calamity, disaster or existential threat. Everything goes smoothly for a while and then the cycle repeats once more.
The prophets of the Old Testament point out to us over and over that the Lord is always faithful and does not forget His people nor the promises He has made to them. For example, in Deuteronomy, we read – “For the Lord your God is a merciful God; He will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which He confirmed to them by oath”. Elsewhere in that book, the author writes – “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments”.
Remembrance and faithfulness are the keys. Our task is to remember the Lord and, in doing so, to stay faithful to Him by the way we live. It is when we fail to do so that the problems begin.
We – alas – forget and are often faithless; the Lord, however, remembers His promises and is always faithful.
I think the words of Jesus to those women of Jerusalem touches on this aspect of the Scriptures. It seems to me, in reading those words, that the Lord is saying something about the increasing forgetfulness of the people toward the Lord.
The moment of the Crucifixion and Death and Resurrection of Christ is Point Zero; it is in that moment that the entire course of human history is utterly and radically transformed, for we are given the hope of redemption and of salvation. But that salvation depends upon two things – our remembrance of the Lord and, flowing from this remembrance, our faithfulness toward Him.
And that is where my heart sinks.
I look not only at the world more broadly but at myself in particular – and I see all too clearly that forgetfulness and faithlessness described time and again in the Old Testament, and touched on by the Lord on His terrible journey bearing the Cross to Calvary.
And it seems that in these days when the wood is truly dry, He is speaking those words of warning not only to those women of Jerusalem, but to me personally and to our world at large.