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“Come down from the cross!”

Crucifixion - image at the Catala Crucifixion side altar at Mission Santa ClaraLast Sunday was Palm Sunday, and at Mass we heard the long gospel reading about suffering and death of Jesus on the cross.

The place of crucifixion was next to a road leading in to the city of Jerusalem.  Visitors would know that crime was taken seriously and punished. (In some middle eastern cities today, public executions in the town’s square serves much the same way – as a very strong warning.) The humiliation of being on public display provided even more insult to injury.

A very short couple of lines in the Gospel of Matthew which we heard references the travelers on that road who saw Jesus and how they responded:

Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying,
“You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, and come down from the cross!” (Mt. 27:39)

These people were not close followers of Jesus.  The men closest to Jesus all ran off in fear and were primarily in hiding.  The women closest to Jesus watched from a distance, according to Matthew (in John’s Gospel, ch 19:25 it is said that they were standing by the cross).  These individuals simply knew of Jesus and happened to be going past. (more…)