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2 Simon of Cyrene

9 MarchSimon the Cyrene

Listen to the full talk, recorded, with thanks, by Spalding Baptist 

Introduced by John Chester, Aileen Workman explored what it could have been like to be Simon of Cyrene,

He was the man who carried Jesus’ cross as he was taken to Golgotha to be killed.  Nothing else is written about Simon but he is an integral part of Christ’s last journey.  Each of the gospel writers says much the same about him (Matthew 27.32, Mark 15.21 and Luke 23.26).
* Matthew says that they came upon a man and compelled him to carry the cross
* Mark says they compelled the passer by who had come in from the country; the father of Alexander and Rufus
* Luke says that they seized a man who was coming from the country and they laid the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus

Simon is coming in from the country but we’re told he came from Cyrene.  Is he an immigrant from Cyrene in North Africa who now lives in the countryside around Jerusalem?  Is he a devout Jew who has travelled a very, very long way to be in Jerusalem for the Passover?  And is he only able to find accommodation outside the city because it is crowded with other people doing the very same thing?

Lent 2020
If we assume that he is coming from Cyrene just for the feast of the Passover, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to imagine his lifestyle.  Where would our imaginations go?

Perhaps he is wealthy, able to travel in some sort of comfort wit servants to care for him and do the heavy work on the journey.  Perhaps he can leave his business, whatever it may be, in the hands of trusted workers.  Perhaps he’s a merchant and combines the pilgrimage with his business.  Or, perhaps, he has no ties just then even though we know that later he will have a family.

Aileen said enough perhaps-ing, although she does like to let her imagination run on and on.  What we don’t know and probably don’t need to know all his personal details, but it is good to know that he was a real man with all the thoughts plans and pressures that we can each identify with. He is identified by all the gospel writers, very specifically Simon of Cyrene.

Perhaps he became well known in the early church so that naming him is a way of certifying the accounts.  Perhaps the early Christians had heard of him or even met him – and he’ll tell you all about it if you just but ask.  Mark’s gospel helps this way, mentioning his sons, saying that he is truly the one who carried the cross.  It’s amazing; if you see him, as what it was like.

So we have this man carrying Jesus’ cross.  All the gospels say the same.  Except they don’t: Luke says they laid the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.  Was that something the others thought wasn’t important enough to include?  Or did Luke mention it because following Jesus would not be easy?  Jesus said to all his disciples if any wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.  Is Luke suggesting that Simon is showing us a picture of what discipleship is really about?  Could the fact that Simon was chosen so suddenly, so unexpectedly, would that be a reminder of hat we know that is very rarely we choose the moment of our cross bearing?  We all now that times of suffering come upon us – thrust upon us in frightening or painful ways, so often seemingly random ways.

And what about the other lives that we touch?  On waking that morning, Simon could never have imagined what was to happen to him that day.  He was commanded, against his will, into a major world event and we through his eyes, become privy to it.  Unexpected and difficult encounters often do change us.  Suffering that we do not want to encounter that we do not want to share in can transform us.  We may not always want to be swept up into another person’s story, wanting to protect ourselves from despair and the turmoil of other people’s lives, yet it happens, maybe despite us.  An ordinary moment propels us into a situation we would not choose but which can change us.  Realising our own vulnerability but willingly becoming part of someone’s difficult story, heeding Christ’s call to love one another especially when it is so very hard is true discipleship.

Perhaps, again, that is why Luke wanted to add that extra detail of Simon following Jesus, to use some as an illustration and a reminder that Simon carried a heavy burden following Jesus.  But it changed his life, surely or otherwise why would Mark be able to assume that his early readers would know Rufus and Alexander and their father?  Aileen thinks it is safe to assume that they were members of the early church.  Perhaps that day walking behind Jesus changed the lives of all of Simon’s family; Paul in his letter to the church on Rome (Romans 16.23) says to greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and greet his mother, a mother to me also.  While we don’t know if that’s the same Rufus, but Aileen does like to think that not only Simon’s sons but his wife, too, became members of the early church and were known personally to Paul.

Have you ever wondered shy Jesus had to have help to carry his cross?  Jesus hadn’t eaten for a long while now, he had been betrayed and deserted by some of his closest friends.  He has been tried, twice, first by the high priest and then before Pilate.  He had been mocked and flogged by soldiers and is exhausted, at his most vulnerable and on public display.  Was Jesus just at breaking point, too weak to get to the place of crucifixion on his own?  Perhaps that’s not the whole story, probably part of it but maybe not the whole.

Perhaps making Simon help was an act of compassion, cruelty or simple expediency?

In the real world where these dreadful events take place and the real people who lake these events happen.  The soldiers there are under strict orders to crucify him, orders not just from the authorities but from the people who have screamed those words just a short while before ‘Crucify him!’  If Jesus is so wounded and exhausted, perhaps he will die on the journey, then those soldiers will be in such trouble not just from their superiors but from the crowd itself.  There will a riot if Jesus is not nailed to that huge piece of wood.  Perhaps they have got to get this man to Golgotha, whatever happens, and get him crucified; our lives depend on that.

Or perhaps it’s a moment of compassion in all the awfulness from one of those Roman soldiers.

Or perhaps, as seems more likely, as theologian Matthew Henry (d 1714) suggests that they saw Jesus about to die under the burden of the cross and they were so blood-thirsty or fearful of punishment from Pilate that they wanted to make sure that Jesus survived long enough to endure the remaining torture – in other words, just the opposite of compassion.

These particular perhaps-es have opened my mind more than previously to the horror of what we do to each other.  At every level and stage through this dreadful time, the awful things that were done to Jesus by ordinary people.  I’m humbled but I’m also frightened to ask myself what I might have done that day in that crowd.  What do I do now, what do we each do now when faced with injustice and inhumanity?

Simon of Cyrene was in the midst of what was, sadly, accepted barbarism.  Alongside such desperate acts sanctioned by the highest in Jerusalem, he was forced by the soldiers, the agents of those very authorities, to participate in the greatest act of love – for God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Simon assisted Jesus in bringing about the redemption of the world.  Jesus needed Simon’s help to make it to the top of Golgotha to complete his sacrifice of love.  An ordinary man served the son of God; he saw the cross, he carried the cross, he saw Jesus nailed to the cross.  Did he see what the cross meant?  Was he curious as to why this man was being crucified or did he think he was just one of the many who would die that way?  Was Simon compassionate, glad in the end to alleviate a little of Jesus’ suffering?  Was Simon in Jerusalem on the Sunday?  Did he pick up on the rumours that the one who so many had cried out to be crucified had conquered death?  Or did he learn of that later?  He was named by all of the Gospel writers.  Did someone say to him ‘Did you know what happened after they crucified that man – you know, the man you helped on that day?  What did Simon feel when he realised that the ancient prophecies had been fulfilled?

So much that we don’t know, but it’s good to try and look at Christ’s cross through Simon’s eyes, not just the physicality of that Friday, but the emotions then and later, too.

The three brief verses do not tell us of any interaction between Simon and Jesus.  Perhaps Simon was scared for his own life, repulsed, too by the blood-smeared beam. Did he try to make contact with Jesus?  They must have been very close, physically when the heavy burden was moved from one to the other.  What was Simon’s reaction when Jesus prophesied to the women of Jerusalem?  And when did Simon leave Jesus?  Did he rush away as soon as the cross was taken off his shoulders?  Or did he feel compelled to stay?  Did he witness Jesus being nailed to the cross?  Did he see the horror on Mary’s face as she watched her son die?  Did he hear Jesus’ final words?

So many questions – only God knows the answers.  We don’t have to know, but to look wider and deeper than those bare words in those three gospel verses opens our minds and hearts to decide to see the cross for ourselves.  If we were to have had the experience Simon had, would it affect our view of the cross.

How deep the Father's love for us and Meekness and Majesty were sung