Last Sunday – Mothering Sunday – and some of the usual signs were there: a flower shop open and their van being loaded up with special bouquets; voices drifting out from a restaurant kitchen where takeaway gourmet meals were being prepared; an elderly lady out for a walk, in between two chaps, possibly her son and grandson, who were letting her set the pace. And, most endearingly, one of them was carrying her handbag over his arm so that her hands were free to hold an arm on each side of her: thus supported, she could enjoy her walk without fear of stumbling.
The time is approaching when we shall begin to think of our Lord Jesus stumbling, as the soldiers beat him and his strength ebbed away and there is no-one present to come to his aid.
Day dawns and Jesus is led away to be crucified, and the guards force a man to carry the cross-piece, the vertical post already being fixed in the ground (as far as we know).
Why do they press-gang a complete stranger? Out of pity for the teacher from Nazareth? Or impatience? Or anger that even their brutality cannot make a wounded man walk any faster?
And what of the man himself? Simon of Cyrene, as he is called in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Cyrene was an ancient city in Libya (several hundred years old even then) – rather a long way from Jerusalem. Some scholars have concluded that Simon had settled in Jerusalem and was perhaps coming in from the countryside to start work for the day. If so, then his routine was rudely interrupted. As a Jew (possibly also known as “Simeon”, a Hebrew name) he had no option but to comply with the Roman order to carry the cross.
But did he pick it up knowing that this poor injured creature was the Saviour of the world? Much more than a healer and preacher and miracle worker? Did he reflect later that he had played a part in the divine drama to save the world’s people from their sins, albeit without asking to?
Was he already a follower of Jesus, or did his experience lead to his conversion? Having laid down the cross in the spot to which the soldiers directed him, did he retreat but not actually leave the scene of the crime (that was to be committed, albeit by the will of God)?
We don’t know but, thanks to Mark’s account, we do know that Simon of Cyrene was the father of Alexander and Rufus. Now, that strongly suggests that these two brothers were known to Mark’s first readers, which in turn implies that they were followers of Christ.
Were they converted by their father? Or did they get there all by themselves?
We must make up our own minds.
This series of events gives an added dimension to the advice of the writer to the Ephesians: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” (chapter 6, verse 2)