Station V: Simon of Cyrene Helps Carry the Cross

Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

It is easy to dismiss the troubles of others with the glib thought “there but for the grace of God go I.” Simon of Cyrene had no choice but get involved, when he encountered a criminal dragging his cross toward Golgotha that eventful Friday in Jerusalem.

As the story is told in Mark 15:21-22, Simon had come to town from the country with his two sons, Alexander and Rufus, no doubt, to celebrate the long Passover weekend. Identifying “Cyrene” with a city in North Africa, some biblical scholars believe Simon was an especially devout Jew or even a pagan convert who had traveled many miles to be there for the holiday.

Simon just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time. Perhaps, the trio missed the turning to Temple Mount, as they pushed their way along the narrow, crowded streets of Jerusalem. Maybe, the boys were of an age, when a gory crucifixion was not a sight to be missed, and they dragged their protesting father to the edge of the jeering mob, lining the Via Dolorosa.

Something, certainly, drew Simon and his two sons to that particular place, when the heavily-burdened Christ was passing by. Alexander and Rufus were too young to attract the attention of the impatient Roman guards, looking for someone to carry the cross for Christ and make a quicker end of it. Father Simon, not the boys, got drafted to do the dirty work.

Why Simon of Cyrene? Did his height and physique catch the eyes of the soldiers, eager to grab any man fit enough to bear the load the rest of the way to Golgotha? Did the color of his North African skin set him apart from the crowd? Maybe, Simon, instinctively, stretched out his arm to help or muttered a word of protest, which provoked Caesar’s troops to pick him. Whatever the reason, as soon as that wood marked a groove on Simon’s shoulder, his life would never be the same again.

According to Christian tradition, Simon of Cyrene embraced the faith of the Savior whose cross he carried and went on to be named Africa’s first saint. Like father, like sons. The Evangelist Mark’s passing reference to Rufus and Alexander suggests the boys from Cyrene were well known in the Christian community who read his Gospel, and they, too, are said to have become missionaries of the new faith.

Simon’s personal plans had to be set aside that day in Jerusalem, when he was compelled to shoulder the cross of Christ, but his bearing of another’s burden became a means of God’s grace for him and his family.

Sometimes I face troubles I would just as soon leave to others and grow weary of taking on problems not of my making. Help me, like Simon, to bear the burdens of others, as if I were the one chosen to carry your cross on the way of salvation. Amen.