Mark 15: 20c-21 leaves the Praetorium, Pilate’s palace, and heads to Golgatha. The “they” probably includes Jesus and the soldiers who mocked him. The crowds are no longer in focus. The disciples are not mentioned. The two thieves are not mentioned. Who is mentioned? Who does the author remember? Simon of Cyrene, a passer-by coming in from the country, a father of Alexander and Rufus, is enlisted to help carry Jesus’ cross to Golgatha.
Cyrene was a Greek city in northern Lybia and home to about 100,000 Jews who had been displaced there around 300 BC. These Jews had their own synagogue in Jerusalem and traveled to Jerusalem for feast days, the Passover for example. But actually we know little about Simon, whether he was Jewish or not, and whether his sons were early missionaries of Christianity. Gnostics present the idea that Simon was actually crucified by mistake instead of Jesus because God could never die. All these are tales through the centuries. Simon is honored in the fifth or seventh Stages of the Cross celebrated during Holy Week. What we do know for sure is that Simon was a passer-by and a father. We also know the man’s name!
The woman who anointed Jesus for his death has no name. The man who shared his upper room has no name. The owner of the donkey has no name. But Simon and his sons are named. I sit at the window in the sunroom of my house and watch the cars racing to where and back from where every hour. I do not know their name nor they mine. I marvel that God knows my name and knows about my life, even if history does not. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep! Simon is named and remembered as helping Jesus in his hour of need. God sees and remembers us even if others don’t.
This little scenario mentioned by three gospel writers, raises an interesting point. We think of God as all-powerful, omnipotent, but we see in this scene, a creator who accepts assistance from his creation. We see humility. So often we wish and even pray that God would use his power and zap away our suffering – but he doesn’t. We are tempted to lament that God does not answer prayer, is not listening, or even wonder if he might not care. Simon, a passer-by, who was not wrapped up in the events that are unfolding, helps carry Jesus’ cross.
Perhaps today we will be delayed from our “plan” and be asked to help someone who is struggling. These interruptions to our schedule can be irritating but let us remember as we are tempted to grumble, Simon of Cyrene, and may we never forget that God knows our agenda and might choose to use our help for someone he knows needs it. It is an honor.