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When you are in Israel, you can’t help notice how hilly the country is. When you read in the Bible Jesus went to a certain town and it was a three-day journey, what I didn’t realize is he was hiking very difficult terrain because it often rocky and steep. I concluded that Jesus must have been in great shape.
I, like my Catholic friends have prayed the Stations of the Cross. Sometimes in churches, you will see pictures or images of each station. A spiritual discipline or practice is to stop at each station, reflect, on what happened there, pray and move to the next station.
What I did not realize is the Via Dolorosa is an actual path in the Old City of Jerusalem that Christian pilgrims come thousands of miles to walk, and have done so since the Byzantine era. We can’t be certain of the exact path because it has changed from time to time, but there are only so many ways to get to Calvary. Some part of the route is probably correct.
What I noticed was the path was all uphill. In other words, Golgotha or Mount Calvary is a hill and the way the cross got to the top of the hill is Jesus carried it there!
Which brings us to Simon of Cyrene, the African. (Cyrene is where modern day Libya is.) Simon was compelled by the Romans to carry the cross of Jesus. (Sounds like a Black man to me).
Carrying the cross is not like a friend, doorman or skycap giving you a hand with your luggage. In 1870, French architect Charles Rohault de Fleury estimated the cross weighed 165 pounds. What comes to mind is doing the stair machine at the gym with a 165-pound weight on your back. You can see how helpful it would be to have someone carry the cross for you.
The distance isn’t really that far, less than a half-mile, but with the stops and three falls along the way, it could have taken one to three hours.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “’Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.'” —Matthew 16:24.
Via Dolorosa in modern usage means a distressing or painful journey or process. Which brings me to Hebrews 4:
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”
Jesus’s final hours, and final steps along the Via Dolorosa tells us Jesus is familiar with suffering. Jesus knows what we are going through when we are on our own “distressing or painful journey” even in our darkest moments. That’s why the rest of Hebrews 4 is so important. Because Jesus knows what we are going through…
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” —Hebrews 4:16
The Via Dolorosa (Latin, ‘Sorrowful Way’, often translated ‘Way of Suffering’; It makes sense that this would be Jesus’ last walk or ministry.
The prophet Isaiah says it all in Isaiah 53:
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by humanity,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we and we esteemed him not
Surely, he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment, he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people, he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.