Monday, 2 April 2018

The Eighth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the cross

We know nothing about Simon of Cyrene except the three nearly-identical soundbites in the first three Gospels.
     The story rings true though. If Jesus died en route to Golgotha because his body was too badly injured by his flogging, then where’s your example of a man screaming publicly on a gibbet? You need a live person if you want a public execution; you can’t intimidate a scared Judean remnant without a writhing body nailed to a cross. So someone has to help the dying saviour.
     Simon was probably muscular because there’s no other reason to choose him. He was also in the wrong place at the wrong time … or was it the right time and the right place? The Romans forced Simon to help Jesus. He offered an act of mercy to Jesus and we repeat the story every single time we read the Gospels.
     God is love and every act of love is therefore God-soaked, even if we’re unaware at the time. That Simon was ‘of Cyrene’ implies he was not a resident of Jerusalem, so he was a visitor, a tourist. That Simon was in the Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover implies he was a believer, a pilgrim. He thought he was going to the Temple to worship, offer sacrifices, draw close to God, but instead he was impelled to participate in God, because God is love and he offered love.
     When we stand at Heaven’s gate, God will separate us like a shepherd separating sheep and goats. The idea is strongly biblical — you know the story in Matthew 25 in which the refrain is, ‘When did he help/feed/cloth you?’ and Jesus replies, ‘That which you did for the least of these, you did it for me’. Simon is lucky insofar as he knows he did it for Jesus and we often don’t … but the similarity continues.
     We too are asked to do things for people, like Simon of Cyrene. It may comprise a physical task of lifting or carrying something heavy; but it may be a psychological carrying, an emotional carrying, a carrying of something in the memory or in the heart, in prayer. But that which we do for the least of anyone we do it for him.
     The only thing we know about Simon from the Gospel narratives is that he was the father to Alexander and Rufus. We know as little of Rufus as we know of Simon, though one ancient legend suggests he later became a bishop (‘overseer’) in the African Church. We know nothing at all of Alexander. Whatever. But this story tells us that if we seek God, we may find him in unforeseen places. And we will find ourselves working, for him.

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