Gwyneth Leech – Simon of Cyrene helps carry the cross
A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.
Mark 15 verse 21 (NIV)
It seems fitting that I read this passage, along with the notes by Brother Ramon, the day after the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade. It’s perhaps no coincidence that, of all the passers by the Roman soldiers could have picked, they chose Simon, a visitor from North Africa, who was racially very different from themselves. An example of first century prejudice, possibly…
Simon could have remonstrated. He could have pleaded gentler treatment for this man who was obviously suffering so greatly. He could have refused to be part of the procession – he might not have wanted to have been seen ‘helping’ the authorities further Jesus’ inevitable fate. (Whether the soldiers, who had authority to demand the help of whoever they chose, would have allowed this without retribution, however, is questionable.) Simon could not change the path that Jesus was to follow. Instead he identified with the injustice of Jesus’ situation by shouldering the burden of the cross-beam being carried to join the upright already in place at Calvary.
The crowds further down the street would not have seen the soldiers press gang Simon into service, seeing him as just another target for their verbal abuse and missile throwing. He would have suffered alongside Jesus, yet his suffering would have been nothing compared to the sorrow and suffering of Jesus.
(Jesus said) “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11 verses 28-30 (NIV)
We are called to ‘Cast our burdens onto Jesus’ (as the song goes), by sharing them with him. How often are we willing to do the same for him by taking on part of his suffering? Is there a way that I can take up part of the burden Jesus carries, walking a way which could be uncomfortable, by supporting and identifying with those who suffer injustice today?
It was good to take part in the London Walk of Witness last Saturday but it is also important to find ways where we can walk alongside and shoulder some of the burdens of those who suffering today. Stop the Traffik, Make Poverty History and the Fair Trade movement are good places to start looking for ideas – with many more groups as well who seek to highlight the suffering and injustices of our world.
He passed by the road;
they pressed him into service,
the first to come along, a stranger.
Lord, you accepted his help. You did not want the help of a friend, the solace of a gesture of love, the generous impulse of one who cared.
You chose the help of an indifferent and timid fellow.
Lord all powerful, you sought the help of a powerless man.
By your own choosing you are in need of us.
Lord, I need others.
The way of man is too hard to be trodden alone.
But I avoid the hands outstretched to help me,
I want to act alone,
I want to fight alone,
I want to succeed alone.
And yet, beside me walk a friend, a spouse, a brother, a neighbour, a fellow worker.
You have placed them near me, Lord, and too often I ignore them.
And yet it is together that we shall save the world.
Lord, even if they are requisitioned, grant that I may see, that I may accept, all the Simons on my road.
(Michel Quoist – From Prayers)
I must acknowledge, as well, that sometimes I need others to help shoulder the burdens I carry, allowing them to come alongside me – in my self-sufficiency it is not always easy!