They haunt me and they hurt me each time that I read them. For even while I know all about their setting and their original application–as a plaintive lament over the ruined conditions of Jerusalem following its destruction in 586 B.C.–I can’t help but wonder if the writer of those ancient words spoke of things He did not know.
Oh, I understand that this is a complex literary work indeed, with intricately constructed acroustic poems following the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, which may or may not have been written by Jeremiah. (The Septuagint version says that they were, but the Hebrew Masoretic text does not.) Likewise, I am painfully aware of the many dangers that come if we take a scripture out of its proper context.
Still, whenever I come across these few verses in the Old Testament my mind is drawn inexorably to the pivotal moment in the New. For could it be that the prophet, glancing about his collapsing society, was also speaking of the Messiah as well when he asked the question that has reverberated down through the centuries:
“Is it nothing to you, all who pass by? Look around and see: is any suffering like my suffering?”
For in truth, was any suffering like His suffering? Was there ever such a travesty of judgment in all of human history–such a colossal miscarriage of justice–such a stupendous and patently unwarranted waste of human life–as in what took place on the eve of Passover long ago?
And yet, so the record tells us, not only was there no mass protest over the verdict that day, no riots in the streets or town square, the vast majority of those who witnessed the immediate execution indeed simply passed right by, with some of them hurling their insults as they went.
“He saved others… let him save himself now.”
And what a curiously ironic thing that was for them to say. For Jesus indeed saved others…from the discomfort of disease…from the anguish of mental illness…from the tragedies of losing a loved one…and even from themselves and their own sin. So clearly, He could have saved Himself had He chosen to do such.
But Jesus understood that the seriousness of our situation called for the kind of ultimate solution that only His death would provide. And so, in the unaltered words of an old spiritual that others have tried to modify to mollify our theological sensitivities, “When I was sinking down beneath God’s righteous frown, Christ laid aside His crown for my soul.”
The tragedy, of course, is that the vast majority of those who passed by that day did not see it. But I have to wonder just how many who pass by our churches on this day won’t see it either.
A preacher of another era, G.A. Studdert-Kennedy, once put it this way:
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree. They drove great nails through hands and feet and made a Calvary. They crowned Him with a crown of thorns; red were His wounds and deep, For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.
When Jesus came to our town, they simply passed Him by. They never hurt a hair of Him; they only let Him die. For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain. They only just passed down the street and left Him in the rain.
So is it really nothing to all you who pass by?