HAVING AT LAST RECEIVED THEIR VICTIM, the leaders of the Jews mocked and derided Him. Then they stripped Jesus of the red rags the soldiers had dressed Him in; and when they had clothed Him in His own garments, they led Him away to be crucified. With Him went two robbers, who were also condemned to death.
The place of execution was Golgotha, a little hillock just outside the west wall of the city. It was a forbidding, ill-omened site in an abandoned and neglected stretch of land, a place of blood and terror. It had been the scene of other crucifixions. And here, for generations, the men of Juda had come to dispatch the members of the community who had committed the unforgivable crimes, who were guilty of death according to the Law. Here the stern-faced accusers had gathered and stoned to death adulterers and blasphemers, dashing out their brains with ugly blood-stained rocks which had served this lethal purpose from immemorial times. For the imaginative the scene was haunted with the agonized cries of the dying culprits and the sterile ground was sodden with their blood.
Golgotha was only about a thousand paces from the praetorium, where Jesus had been condemned to death; but, according to the law, He was required to carry the instrument of His execution, and the weight of the cross made the journey to Calvary an agonizing ordeal.
The tragic procession moved slowly through the streets of Jerusalem. At its head was a mounted centurion leading the platoon of soldiers assigned to carry out the execution of Christ. Next came a page or lackey carrying placards inscribed with the reasons for the condemnations. At the rear of this cortege Jesus and the two thieves plodded wearily along, bowed down by the weight of their crosses.
Jesus was fatigued to the point of death. He had not slept since Wednesday night, and had been on His feet for the last fifteen hours. He was hungry, thirsty, and His body, aching from sheer weariness as well as from the wounds of the scourging, was caked with blood and dirt. Above all, His Sacred Heart grieved at the malice, selfishness, and injustice of man.
Under the weight of the cross Jesus soon began to falter. After He had fallen several times, the soldiers were alarmed lest He die on the way to the place of execution. As they passed through the city gate and were about to cross the moat, Jesus fell again. The soldiers kicked Him repeatedly, and prodded Him with their pikes, but they were unable to get Him to His feet and called to their captain for help.
Taking advantage of his power to requisition aid in such emergencies, the centurion had his men seize a passer-by and ordered him to take up the condemned man’s cross. This conscript was a man named Simon of Cyrene, probably a member of the colony of Cyrenaic Jews in Jerusalem. He was on his way into the city when the centurion stopped him, and as the great cross was laid on his shoulders and he was forced to follow Jesus toward Golgotha, he undoubtedly wished he had taken a different road. However, though his help was now given grudgingly, it is believed that he was an early convert to Christianity; according to an ancient tradition, Alexander and Rufus, who accompanied Saint Peter to Rome and whom Saint Mark names as sons of Simon, were sons of this Cyrenean.
Eased of His terrible burden through the involuntary assistance of Simon, Jesus resumed His journey to Calvary. The priests and elders who walked behind Him resented His temporary escape from the cross and now redoubled the insults and indignities with which they had pursued Him all the way from the praetorium. With them was a throng of people and many of them joined in the jibes and taunts of their leaders, some out of malice, others because they feared they would offend the Sanhedrin.
All of His enemies seemed to have come to witness His final humiliation. But there were friends of Jesus present, too. The apostles had recovered their courage and were now following their Master along that road of suffering of which He had often spoken to them. With them were the other disciples and also many of those whom Jesus had healed and comforted.
With all these was a large group of the women of Jerusalem, including, no doubt, the mother of Jesus and that holy woman, “Veronica,” who with her veil wiped from the face of Jesus the blood, dirt, and sweat which disfigured it. Though a decree of the Sanhedrin forbade any manifestations of grief for one who was being led to execution, they could not restrain their tears at the sight of Jesus’ suffering, and they followed Him wailing and lamenting. Suddenly, Jesus stopped and looked back at the crowd that followed Him, and addressing the weeping women of Jerusalem, He said:
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, days are coming in which men will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ For if in the case of green wood they do these things, what is to happen in the case of the dry?”
Now they were in the open countryside. The sun shone brightly in a blue sky and the air was full of the scents of spring. But as they started to ascend the slope of Golgotha, a dark cloud gathered over the ugly little hill and began to spread rapidly across the sky.
Meditation: The carrying of the cross has become the symbol of bearing our own burdens in the service of God, of bearing them patiently and without complaint. Christ had said, “he who does not take lip his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” His own carrying of the cross was the great example of faithful and complete fulfillment of the will of God. Our crosses are the difficulties we experience in living according to God’s will. Unselfish love and active service of all our neighbors, whether they be likeable or not, is God’s will and may be our cross.
Information from The Life of Christ “Our Lord’s Life with Lesson in His Own Words for Our Life Today” The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959. 273-276. © 1954 edited by Reverend John P. O’Connell, MASTD and Jex Martin, following mainly A Chronological Harmony of the Gospels by Stephen J Hartdegen OFM NIHIL OBSTAT John A McMahon; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago August 1, 1953. Print. Drawing by Albert H Winkler.