Mark 15.12-21 CEB: Pilate replied, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call king of the Jews?”
They shouted back, “Crucify him!”
Pilate said to them, “Why? What wrong has he done?”
They shouted even louder, “Crucify him!”
Pilate wanted to satisfy the crowd, so he released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus whipped, then handed him over to be crucified.
The soldiers led Jesus away into the courtyard of the palace known as the governor’s headquarters, and they called together the whole company of soldiers. They dressed him up in a purple robe and twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on him. They saluted him, “Hey! King of the Jews!” Again and again, they struck his head with a stick. They spit on him and knelt before him to honor him. When they finished mocking him, they stripped him of the purple robe and put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
Simon, a man from Cyrene, Alexander and Rufus’ father, was coming in from the countryside. They forced him to carry his cross.
‘Simon, a man from Cyrene, Alexander and Rufus’ father, was...forced...to carry [Jesus’] cross.’ I’m not sure many of us remember Simon the Cyrene. In fact, so much emphasis is placed on the crucifixion of Jesus and all that it entailed that we forget this person. Yet, he is mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels (that is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Or maybe it’s because most of the plays we see or movies we watch are based primarily on John’s Gospel story. Whatever the reason, Simon carried Jesus’ cross at least part of the way.
Something that is also interesting here is that Mark makes it a point to state that he was ‘Alexander and Rufus’ father’. This leads us to believe that the audience to whom this was written knew who those to people were. I can just here it now:
The group was meeting in Phoebie’s home. Sophia, her daughter, was reading the story.
‘Simon, a man from Cyrene...’ she read.
‘Who?’ someone asked.
‘You know. Alexander and Rufus’ father?’, his friend replied.
The other person shakes his head.
‘Rufus was the one who went with Paul to...’
‘Oh!’ he exclaimed. ‘That guy!’
‘Yeah,’ she responds. ‘Him. His brother is Alexander.’
‘Right. Right. I’m following you now. So their dad carried Jesus’ cross?’
‘It seems so.’
‘Wow. I had no idea.’
I make mention of Rufus with Paul because in Romans 16.13, Paul mentions him. While Rufus was a common name (so I’ve read), I like it when Scripture ties stuff together in this way. There is no reason one can’t speculate (with some accuracy) that those two people were one in the same, just as we can speculate that the ‘Paul’ mentioned in Acts is the same one who wrote Romans.
But what do we know of Simon? The man forced to carry Jesus’ cross? Not much, actually. Traditionally, Simon was depicted as a black man since Cyrene was located in northern Africa. It had a great Jewish population that originated in roughly the late fourth century or early third century BCE. Furthermore, traditionally speaking, some have seen that Simon was probably one of the group from Cyrene that preached the gospel in Antioch (Acts 11.20). Again, I like it when the Bible ties ends together this way and I have no problem with Simon being part of that group. It makes sense to me. Here’s a man (probably with his family) on the way to Jerusalem because it was time for Passover. It was a law that one had to travel to Jerusalem for the feast day. What I understand from this is that Simon was a devout Jew (or he was becoming one). But on the way to the Temple that morning, something changed his life.
The story goes that he was chosen to carry the cross of Christ because of his compassion for Jesus, either when he first saw him or after he finished. I imagine it was a little of both. I can see him moved with emotion at the sight of Jesus. Beaten, bruised, and bleeding, his body ripped to shreds (in a very literal way), Jesus was probably almost dead when he started the journey to his crucifixion. Simon could have been so moved at the sight of Jesus, that he went to his aid at some point (perhaps Jesus stumbled or collapsed). I can hear and see a Roman soldier grab Simon by the arm as he stoops to help Jesus. The soldier yanks him back quite forcefully, perhaps even accusing Simon of sedition as well (that was one of the charges against Jesus, the one that would have made Rome the most uneasy). Simon denies knowing anything about Jesus or the situation (he just doesn’t like the way Jesus is being treated). The soldier throws him to the ground beside what’s left of Jesus. He could have even be threatened of crucifixion as well if he didn’t carry the cross. Simon, literally, picks up the cross and follows Jesus up to the hill of death.
I don’t know about you, but that would have been a life changing moment for me. In this story we can see Jesus words being carried out to the utmost. Simon had to deny himself (and probably his family), not know what his outcome would be (maybe the Romans would kill him once they reached the top), took up the cross and followed Jesus. I can imagine him standing there watching the whole thing unfold. At some point, I’m sure someone told him about Jesus and what had been going on those three years in a scene very much like the story in Luke 24. One doesn’t hear a story like that, one doesn’t have an experience like that and not be moved. I would think that one has to really reexamine one’s life after an encounter like that. I know I would have. And it is because I read these stories and experience the love and compassion and mercy and grace of Christ on a daily basis that I continue to examine my life to see if it lines up with the life of Jesus. But I continue to follow, not knowing the outcome but knowing that I am a better person for taking the journey.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br Jack+, LC