"And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry His cross. And they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha" (Mark 15:21-22).
Carrying Jesus' cross. It is the only time we hear of this Simon throughout the whole of the New Testament. Sit with this man's action a moment though...He assisted Jesus in bringing about the redemption of the world. Scourged and beaten, Jesus needed Simon's help to make it to the top of Golgotha to complete His sacrifice. I know there is great depth here, and I'm only scratching the surface; but even a scratch has to be of some value:
Only God knows what went through Simon's mind when he was pressed into that service. He was on his way home from work when the soldiers forced him into position. Had he seen Jesus before, heard Him? Did he recognize Him there on the ground, under the cross? Scared for his own life, Simon lifted the hundred pound beam onto his shoulders. Surrounded by Roman soldiers, he was probably too scared to be repulsed by the blood-smeared beam. Did he try to make eye contact with Jesus, or did he just perform the task given him? What was his reaction when the Lord prophesied to the women of Jerusalem? Did he witness Jesus being nailed to the cross, see the horror on His Mother Mary's face? Was Simon there throughout the Lord's hours on the Cross? Did he hear Jesus' final words, see the blood and water gush from His side? Or did he run to his family as soon as that beam left his shoulder? Only God knows.
What you and I know for certain is this: something happened to Simon. When Mark wrote his Gospel for the Christians in Rome, Simon's sons were among them (Mark 15:21). Simon came to Faith; he knew that Jesus had been raised and, he communicated that to his sons. How did Simon come to faith? Perhaps he heard stories that the Man he had helped had been raised and was appearing to His followers. Personally, I think Jesus paid him a visit. The Lord is never outdone in generosity– for Simon to have shared so intimately in the Cross, it makes me suspect that he shared intimately in the joy of the Resurrection as well.
It wasn’t Simon who redeemed the world, but his exertion and discomfort while carrying the cross did assist Jesus in making His redemptive offering. Even though all the value and power of the sacrifice flowed from the Lord, Simon truly participated in, truly shared, a part of Jesus’ Passion. I believe St. Paul described this reality, open to you and I as well, when he wrote, “in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Colossians 1:24). The grace and power flow from the Lord alone, and yet we truly participate in His offering – His one offering, reaching out to redeem past, present, and future (Heb.10:10, 9:14).
You and I are in Simon's position, you know. Our Lord allows His Cross to be laid upon us. It is never the type of Cross we would choose for ourselves either. No, it’s a weight we struggle under; and like Simon, we’re pressed into service. It may be the loss of a job, an illness, or abandonment by a spouse. It is always an opportunity to enter into Jesus’ offering though. For when we press on with continued faith in God’s love for us, we take on the image of the Son:
Although he was a Son, [Jesus] learned obedience from what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Heb.5:8-9).
Consider him…so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted…It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons…for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Heb.12:3,7,11).
The very next verse in Hebrews is of special interest to me: “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” You see, God is going to move us forward; we are going to take on the image of Jesus. We can dig in our heels and persist in anger over how “unfair” our lives are, how “cruelly” we are being treated; but it won’t stop the process. God loves us right now, exactly as we are; but He loves us too much to let us stay the way we are! He will settle for nothing less than our obtaining that absolute “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb.12:14).
St. Paul understood that this holiness is obtained by embracing the Cross shoulder-to-shoulder with Jesus. “For Jesus’ sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:8-11).
The Cross creates intimacy between Jesus and the soul of the disciple. If we will put ourselves in Simon’s place – beneath the weight of the Cross, shoulder-to-shoulder with Jesus, our hearts pounding alongside the Sacred Heart – then we will experience the unmitigated generosity of God: we will come forth from our tombs in the splendor and power of the Risen One! Because of our union with the Sacred Heart in His Passion, our bodies and souls will participate in His Resurrection. The Cross will be transformed from an occasion of suffering into the insignia of an enduring, Divine Love – His by nature, ours by participation.