30. Mark 15:21

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus.

Christian tradition reports that Simon of Cyrene, the passer-by pressed into service by the Romans to carry Jesus’ cross, later became a Christian. This tradition stems from the fact that the sons of Simon are mentioned in the account, perhaps indicating that they may have been known to Mark’s community as believers. More colloquially, Mark might have written: “It was Simon of Cyrene – you know, Alexander and Rufus’ dad.”

I find that to be an incredible thought – that somehow Simon becomes a Christian. The whole thing must have been, when you think about it, a terrible experience, an awful intrusion into his plans and life.

Simon, we can imagine, is coming to Jerusalem along with throngs of other faithful Jews from around the Mediterranean world. They are returning to Jerusalem for Passover, making a pilgrimage back to the holy city of David to remember and reenact God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt.

But there’s more going on this time than usual. There’s a commotion. Apparently there’s been a trial and it’s become a public spectacle. Pilate, the governor, even involved the masses in his decision. The judgment was delivered – one, a patriot accused of murder, has been set free. One, a rabbi accused of treason, will be crucified. Crowds are still milling around, waiting and watching for the execution of the sentence.

Because of all this, traffic into the city has slowed to a trickel. The roads into Jerusalem are normally clogged at this time of year, but now they’re almost at a standstill; no one can get through. Simon is caught up in one great and slowly moving mosh pit of fevered excitement, or is it dread? When around the corner comes the band of soldiers, pushing and prodding the gaunt figure of what must be the rabbi. He is nearly crushed under the weight of the cross. After a moment of anguished sympathy, all Simon can think is that he’s glad it’s not him.

When all of sudden one of the centurions, perhaps fearful that his charge will drop dead on the way to the execution grounds, looks up, spots Simon, and grabs him, hauling him bodily from the crowd, forcing the crossbeam onto his shoulders and shoving him in the opposite direction he’d just come. Out of the city, toward the garbage heap that doubled as the Roman killing grounds.

The rest is a blur of agony and fear, for Simon and for all those who came with him. Who knows what the Romans will do with him when they’re done? Who knows if he will see his family, if his family will see him, every again? All he knows is that he has to keep putting one foot in front of the other as he bears on his shoulders the instrument of execution for another man.

This is speculation, of course. We don’t – can’t – know what it was like for Simon that day. We don’t know if he spoke with Jesus. Or if merely accompanying him someone changed his life. If he did, indeed, become a Christian, we don’t know when – that weekend or some months or years later when he hears word of Jesus’ resurrection. Yes, there’s a lot we don’t know. But we do know that he bore the cross of our Lord, and we know that that must have been a terrible experience, an awful intrusion into all that he had planned.

And yet somehow, some way, Simon became a believer. That’s the way of the cross when you think of it. God doesn’t plan awful events for us; God doesn’t cause hardship and pain, not for any reason. And yet God is with us in that pain, refuses to abandon us, even intrudes into our hardship and suffering in order to bear it with us. And sometimes, sometimes something wonderful comes from it all. That’s the way of the cross…and the way of resurrection.

Prayer: Dear God, when our way is dark or dreadful, remind us of your presence with us so that we, like Simon, may bear the hardships that come our way and not only persevere but also come to know you and your love better through them. In Jesus name, Amen.