Who were there, what was their experience? As the old spiritual sings it, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
(Note: If we try to list all the specific individuals mentioned in the various accounts, we get the following result:)
1. Mary Magdalene (mentioned by Matthew, Mark, and John)
2. Mary the mother of James and Joses (mentioned by Matthew and Mark)
3. The mother of Zebedee’s sons (mentioned by Matthew)
4. Salome (mentioned by Mark) — Many scholars think that this is the same person as (3), the mother of Zebedee’s sons
5. Mary the mother of Jesus (mentioned by John)
6. Mary the wife of Clophas (who was probably Joseph’s brother) (mentioned by John)
7. An un-named sister of Jesus’ mother (mentioned by John) — Many scholars think that this is the same person as 6.
8. The un-named Beloved Disciple (mentioned by John)
Here are some others who were near or at the Cross:
JUDAS. I just didn’t understand Him; I see it now, and it torments me. I wanted so much Him to lead us out from under the Roman yoke, and for me to be one of his lieutenants. Who doesn’t crave money and power? For 30 pieces of silver I sold him out, ‘though He called me “friend.”
PETER. I don’t know why I couldn’t “stand up, stand up for Jesus. . .” Although I had bragged that I would never deny Him, I “followed at a distance,” and then I let a serving maid get to me as I warmed myself by a fire: “You’re one of his disciples, aren’t you?” Fear took over, and I denied him, denied him, denied him. The cock crowed, and I wept, when He looked at me. I’ll never forget that look. (After He arose, by another fire he asked me if I loved him, three times! And those awful memories were healed with “Feed my lambs, Take care of my sheep, Feed my sheep.” In other words, “You can serve me, Peter, You can serve me, you can love.” I soon was able to stand up for Jesus, and become a “soldier of the Cross.”)
THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS. He had it coming to him, going around forgiving people’s sins, telling them to follow him, saying the Torah was being fulfilled in his teaching, breaking Sabbath Rules by healing people on that Holy Day, undermining Temple Worship. Our power over the people, our position as Priests of the Most High God, a position going back to Moses and even Father Abraham, was being totally undermined, and so he had to go, even though Nicodemus favored him.
PONTIUS PILATE. I know I’ve been famous ever since the Creed was written: “Crucified under Pontius Pilate.” What a reputation! But what was I to do? The mob was clamoring “Crucify him, crucify him,” and even though my wife warned me not to, all I could say is, “What is truth?” and let Barabbas go instead, and wash my hands of the matter. He made clear that his kingdom was not of this world, so my little kingdom wasn’t threatened, but I could not alienate the religious leaders and the people, could I?
SIMON OF CYRENE. According to Matthew 27: 32, I was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross. At any rate, there’s a hymn which says “Must Jesus carry the cross alone?. . .” But the original version reads:
Must Simon bear the cross alone, And other saints be free?
Each saint of thine shall find his own And there is one for me.
Whene’er it falls unto my lot, Let it not drive me from
My God, let me ne’er be forgot ‘Till though hast lov’d me home.
THE TWO THIEVES. Luke 23: 39-43 (NIV) One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[a]”
Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
MOTHER MARY, AND JOHN. John 19:25-27 (NIV)
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,[a] here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
Utterly amazing! Here he was, exhausted, bleeding from countless beatings and whippings, already nailed to the cross, every breath almost impossible, and yet he had the presence of mind to show deep care for his mother and for John, the “beloved disciple.”
Since 2 Corinthians 5 claims that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s sins against them,” in showing this love for his mother and for John, as well as the penitent thief, Jesus was revealing God’s love for all of us, whether convicted sinner or one of his own.
As we think about Good Friday, we’d do well to ask ourselves, “Where am I, in regards to this?”
Millions, nay billions, of people, from hardened criminals to heads of state, have had the experience of kneeling there, and feeling loved and forgiven by God for the first time in their lives. I know I did, some 62 years ago, and it changed the direction of my life. I conclude with one of my favorite poems,
By Christina Rossetti (1830–1894)
AM I a stone and not a sheep
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy Cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon—
I, only I.
Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.
(J. C. Squire, ed. A Book of Women’s Verse. 1921.)