Simon of Cyrene
As they led him away, they laid hold of one Simon of Cyrene who was coming in from the countryside. They put the cross on Simon’s shoulders for him to carry along behind Jesus. --Luke 23:26
Jesus carried his own cross up to the place of execution. But he only carried it part of the way. At some point, the Roman guards impressed a man named Simon into service.
The Bible tells us that Simon was coming in from the countryside. The ancient Fathers of the Church tell us that he was a Jew of the diaspora, coming into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover festival. Jewish people lived all over the world in the days of Jesus, much like they do today. In fact, there were more Jews outside of Judea than within its borders. But even these people, those who lived a great distance from Jerusalem, were required by the Law of God to come and celebrate the great feasts. Most of them did not make it every year, but many made long and dangerous journeys to attend feasts like Passover.
The Bible tells us that Simon was Cyrene in what is now Libya, in northern Africa. This town had been settled by Jews 300+ years before Jesus was born. In those days, long before the Arab Muslim invasions, this part of he world was inhabited mainly by black Africans, and Simon is traditionally thought to have been a black Jewish man.
Simon had come all the way from Libya, then, to participate in a joyful Passover celebration. His journey would have taken months and cost a great deal of money. He had come to eat of the passover lamb, to remember the redemption of God’s people, and to celebrate freedom. Instead, he was pressed into hard labor by a Roman soldier. He came face to face with the reality that his people were not free, and that redemption seemed far away.
Somehow, in the process of carrying the cross, God did something in Simon’s life. I’m sure it took a long time for him to process, but this event transformed him forever. He had come to eat the Passover lamb, and he found himself helping the Lamb bare his cross. He came to remember redemption, and he saw the Redeemer with his own eyes. He came to celebrate freedom, and he was set free by the Son of God.
Simon came to know Jesus. Not just as the man whom he had been forced to help, but as his Lord and savior. And Simon took the Good News back with him to his home town, where he brought his two sons to faith in Christ. Mark’s Gospel tells us that Simon was the father of Rufus and Alexander who would later become missionaries, possibly bringing the Gospel to the city of Rome. Further, Acts 11:20 reports that “men of Cyrene” preached the Good News to the Greeks. We can reasonably guess that these men traced their faith to Simon.
Simon was made to do something he would rather not do. And it changed his life forever. I feel that this is something I can learn from. I am sometimes called upon to do things I don’t want to do, especially in Christian relationships. I have to help someone when I don’t have the energy for it. I have to make a phone call when I would rather watch T.V. I have to tell someone the truth when I would rather not bring “it” up.
When I do what I am supposed to do, when I lay down my life for someone else, it can be hard, painful, or just plain irritating. But God can use that faithfulness to produce good fruit. I would do well to follow Simon’s good example: to pick up a cross that isn’t mine, and to be transformed as a result.
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