The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. — Mark 15:16-20
As Jesus taken away, the Bible tell us they randomly seized a man from the crowd named Simon from the city of Cyrene. It was his job to help a torn and beaten Jesus carry his cross to Calvary.
Simon is one of those Bible characters we know little about, but who had a significant role to play in the life of Jesus, however brief it might have been.
I remember quite well when Simon of Cyrene first entered my own conscious; I was a young adult. It was during rehearsal of one of our church Easter musical dramas some 20-plus years ago. As Deana was directing the choir, she looked up into the tenor section and asked Dr. Terry Bennett if he’d step down. She pulled him aside for a brief private conversation. The rest of us, of course, were quite curious as to the discussion that had just taken place as Terry returned to his spot in the choir. Then, Deana instructed us to take that particular song, “from the top.” As the music reached a crescendo, I could see Stony Capehart (our youth minister at the time) immersed in the role of Jesus Christ, making his way down the middle aisle, carrying the cross. Men dressed as guards were close at hand, cracking their whips and urging the tortured “King of the Jews” to stay the course as he balanced the heavy wooden cross on his bloodied shoulder.
That’s when it happened. As Stony neared the stage, we were singing “...the world behind me, the cross before me...” when Terry rushed from the choir loft to help carry the cross.
Sure it was staged theatrics. Of course, it was all pretend. I knew the thick red liquid dripping down Stony’s body was actually part Halloween makeup and part paint. I understood the reality of it all. Or did I?
It was in that moment, watching Terry take on the role of Simon of Cyrene, moving to help Jesus carry his cross that my heart seemed to leap from my chest and bring me in check to the reality of what was transpiring right before my eyes.
I envisioned crowds closing in on Jesus and Simon as they searched for strength to move the cross toward Golgotha. I thought about Simon and how he, too, felt the hate and anger people were shouting from the streets. Simon surely felt the blood of Jesus dripping on his own body and the spit from the crowd easily made its way to his own skin. Were words exchanged between the two as they shared step after step? What must he have thought as he glanced over and connected his eyes with those of the Messiah, barely visible through the blood flowing down from his brow beneath the crown of thorns?
I pictured Simon taking a step back as they reached the top of the hill and the angst he felt as he watched Jesus stretched out and nailed to the very cross he had just helped carry. What was his reaction when they dropped the cross in place, could he even gaze his direction as Jesus winced in immense pain. Was there any understanding as to how Jesus was managing to find one breath after another before he took his last? Could he believe what he was hearing when Jesus asked his Father to forgive those crucifying him?
My thoughts of Simon intensified a bit a couple of summers ago when we visited Israel and I was able to walk the Via Dolorosa in Old Jerusalem and touch the spot where tradition suggests Jesus stumbled and Simon stepped in to carry the cross. I had to ask myself...would I have done the same?
Then it hit me, what’s with the “would I have”? The real question is do I do the same? How many times in a given day do I have an opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus? How many times have I turned the other way when I’ve seen someone in need? I’ll keep those answers to myself.
But, I will say...maybe that’s why I like Simon. He’s the kind of guy I want to be.