Gospel of Matthew: a commentary & meditation 
They crucified him and divided his garments among them

Gospel reading: Matthew 27:32-44

32 As they went out, they came upon a man of Cyre'ne, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Gol'gotha (which means the place of a skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mingled with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots; 36 then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 37 And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, "This is Jesus the King of the Jews." 38 Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. 39 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40 and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." 41 So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42 "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, `I am the Son of God.'" 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

Meditation:  Are you prepared to die well?  None of us can avoid the inevitable -- our own death. We try to avoid it, to block it from our minds, but the the truth is we will all die sooner or later. Dying is not easy for anyone.  It involves mental and physical suffering, loss, and separation.  We can choose to live well, and we can choose to die well.  Dying well is a life-long spiritual task.  Fortunately there is something stronger than death and that is love (Song of Songs 6:8).  "For God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Jesus embraced the cross knowing it was the Father's will and the Father's way for him to die.

A criminal condemned to death by Roman law was forced to carry his own cross.  Soldiers made him carry it to the place of execution usually by the longest route possible. This prolonged the public humiliation and agony of carrying a weight that bowed the head and broke the back into a posture of  submission.  Jesus fell under the weight of his cross and could go no further.  The Roman soldiers compeled another man to carry it for him.  Simon had come a long distance from Cyrene (in North Africa, present-day Libya) to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. The last thing he wanted to do was to participate in the public execution of a criminal. But he had no choice since Roman authority could not be challenged without serious consequences. Mark records that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21).  Since Mark wrote his gospel for the Christian community at Rome, it is likely that the two sons of Rufus were well-known to the Church there as fellow Christians. Who knows, if Simon had not been compelled to carry Jesus's cross, he may never have been challenged with the message of the cross and the meaning of the Christian faith which his two sons later embraced.  Perhaps Simon became a believer and passed on his faith to his family as well. Do you take up your cross willingly to follow Jesus in his way of love and sacrifice?

The Romans reserved crucifixion for their worst offenders.  It was designed to be the most humiliating and excruciatingly painful way they knew for execution.  The criminal was stripped and nailed to a cross erected in a public place, usually by a roadside or highway near the town where the criminal could be viewed by everybody who passed that way.  A healthy man could live for several days on such a cross before he expired from hunger, thirst, exhaustion, and madness.  It was a slow agonizing death, usually as a result of asphyxiation.  The victim was hung on the cross in such a fashion that his lungs quickly filled with fluids and he could not breath unless he pulled his chest upward and gasped for breath. Every movement brought nerve-racking pain.  Eventual exhaustion led to asphyxiation.  If the soldiers wanted to speed the process up, they broke the victim's legs to prevent ease of breathing.

The place where Jesus was crucified was on a hill just outside of Jerusalem known as Golgatha (Aramaic word for skull). The authorities deliberately executed Jesus besides two known criminals.  This was designed to publicly humiliate Jesus before the crowds and to rank him with robbers.  When Jesus was nailed to the cross he was already more than half-dead.  The scourging alone and the crown of thorns beaten into his skull had nearly killed him.  In such a state it is all the more remarkable to see Jesus with a clear sound mind and a tranquil heart.  When Jesus was offered some wine mixed with myrrh to ease his pain, he refused it.  He willingly embraced suffering and death for our sake because he knew and loved us all when he offered his life as an atoning sacrifice on the cross (Gal. 2:20, Ephes. 5:2,25). Jesus shows us the depths of God's redeeming love and forgiveness.  He loved his own to the end (John 13:1). "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).  "For the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died." (2 Cor. 5:14).

 Pilate publicly heralded Jesus "The King of the Jews" as he died upon the cross, no doubt to irritate and annoy the chief priests and Pharisees. Jesus was crucified for his claim to be King. The Jews understood that the Messiah would come as king to establish God's reign for them.  They wanted a king who would free them from tyranny and foreign domination.  Many had high hopes that Jesus would be the Messianic king.  Little did they understand what kind of kingship Jesus claimed to have.  Jesus came to conquer hearts and souls for an imperishable kingdom, rather than to conquer perishable lands and entitlements. As Jesus was dying on the cross, he was mocked for his claim to kingship.  Nonetheless, he died not only as King of the Jews, but King of the nations as well.  His victory over the power of sin, Satan, and the world was accomplished through his death on the cross and his resurrection. Jesus exchanged a throne of glory for a cross of shame to restore us to glory with God as his adopted sons and daughters. "He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is oabove every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2:8-11) In the Book of Revelations Jesus is called King of kings and Lord and lords (Rev. 19:16).  Do you recognize Jesus Christ as your King and Lord and do you exalt his name as holy?

"Lord Jesus, you laid down your life for me that I might walk in the freedom of your love and mercy.  Free me from love of the world and from attachment to sin and hurtful desires, that I might love whole-heartedly and sincerely what you love and reject whatever is false and contrary to the gospel."


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 (c) 2002 Don Schwager