Simon of Cyrene is a man mentioned in all of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). He is the man forced to help Christ carry the heavy cross that would be used as the vehicle for his murder.
Simon is minding his own business, attempting to see what all of the commotion was on the roads so close to the feast of Passover. Jesus’ closest disciples and friends deserted him, but this stanger became the one who had the closest vision into Jesus’ Passion. He was wrapped up, physically, in the blood, sweat, tears and exhaustion of Christ. During Holy Week, Christians desire to pray, fast, and worship in a way that enables them to be present with Jesus in his suffering. We never often pay attention to him, but Simon is the one we are attempting to take the place of.
Matthew and Mark describe that Simon was, “pressed into service,” and given the cross alongside Jesus. Mark makes special note in giving the detail that Simon was a “passer-by,” evoking the understanding that the Cyrenian might not even have been watching Jesus when he was grabbed to give him aid. Luke’s language is more forceful, stating that the soldiers “took hold of” Simon and made him carry the cross with Jesus.
The Gospel writers, basing their accounts off of eyewitness testimony, noted with clarity the physical and dramatic nature in which Simon is enlisted to help Jesus on his way to Golgotha.
Our world today spews hatred towards any speech which impinges upon freedom of the individual. Now, more than ever, men and women rail against any power or entity stripping away their freedom to go and do what they please with whoever they please. Humankind across the globe is experiencing quarantines and shelter-in-place orders that are forcing people to stay in their homes. We are being told what we can and cannot do. We are being forced to “suffer” in boredom or lack of mobility.
In the background, as always, is Simon of Cyrene. The man “pressed into” helping someone in need; the man being told what he can and cannot do; the man who suffered with the suffering one. His reaction is one we can learn from, especially as we find ourselves in the holiest days of the year. Submission is not always a weakness. What if the current state of affairs is our Simon of Cyrene moment? Our chance to suffer with a family member who deals with depression or loneliness. Our opportunity to spend more time with the people we claim to love the most, but that we too often only see for a few hours a day during business-as-usual.
Jesus called the Twelve to be his closest followers and friends, but it is a stranger who ends up spending time with and giving his assistance to the Son of God when he needed help the most. Scholars estimate that the cross beam that prisoners were forced to carry weighed between a hundred and hundred and fifty pounds. It would need to be carried for over a half-a-mile to get to the site of Calvary (outside the walls of Jerusalem). The weight and burden of the heavy cross after the brutal beating Jesus endured is incomprehensible for the mere human to imagine.
We do not know what it would have been like: to feel beaten, bruised, humiliated, and hated while knowing you are about to lose your life in a most torturous manner known to man at the time. We cannot comprehend it, but Simon of Cyrene could. This man, this blip on the map in Jesus’ life is not much different from us. We may feel insignificant, lost, lonely, and just a passer-by in the large affairs of the world. However, God is desiring to enlist us to be there with his Son in his excruciating agony; God is asking us to enter into the service of Christ and to sacrifice for him and for others, even when it feels forced.
There are no insignificant moments, people, or opportunities when it comes to God. This week, let us allow the witness and aid of Simon of Cyrene to become our own. Let us carry whatever cross is being given to us. Let us do so with the knowledge that Jesus carries his alongside us, and that the empty tomb is where we are headed.