Simon was forced to carry the cross
We don’t live in a society where police officers or soldiers routinely order us to do stuff for them.
But Simon did live in such a society. He was the foreigner who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he got dragged into something that had nothing to do with him.
A man was being taken to his place of execution. He was going to be crucified. He had been severely beaten and he was too weak to carry his own cross. And so they had picked on Simon, possibly because he was black and different (he came from Cyrene, an ancient city in Libya), and they ordered him to carry the cross.
I wonder what he thought as he carried the cross: ‘This thing is heavy. How far have we got to go? Why did I get landed with this? I had my own plans for today. This thing is heavy. It is so unfair. I’m treated worse than a dog in this place. People will think I am the one who is about to be crucified. I can’t refuse. I can’t put it down and run. I am nobody; I am powerless. Are we nearly there yet? This thing is really heavy!’
There are times in life when burdens are imposed on us; when we have to do things we don’t want to do. The child is sick at 3am in the morning and we need to tidy it up; the elderly parent is confused and is getting to the stage when they can’t look after themselves, and we need to step in and make some decisions. Or maybe we are falsely accused, or we are given a responsibility that threatens to crush us. Or our partner falls ill with a long term, disabling, illness and we have got to take on the role of carer. We have a child who is born with a serious disability: all our hopes and plans are blown out of the water. It is not our choice but our life is going to be significantly different. Or someone we love is accused of doing something dreadful (one can only feel deep sympathy both with the families of the victims, but also with the parents of the co-pilot who crashed the German wing plane). Or maybe they tell us we have a life threatening, life changing illness. These are heavy burdens, maybe too heavy a burden, to bear.
But maybe Simon began to also think about the man for whom he was carrying the cross. Perhaps he glanced over at him as he walked beside him. Who is he? What dreadful thing did he do to deserve death by crucifixion?
And maybe when he got to Golgotha he hung around and watched.
He saw this man offered wine and myrrh (it was a sort of sedative) but he refused. He was thrown down on the crossbar and nails were hammered into his wrists. He was then hoisted up, and the crossbar was dropped into a position with a shock that must have torn at his wrists and put every bone in his body out of joint. That was just the beginning.
And then he began to get a hint of what this man was accused of. A written inscription was placed above him: ‘The King of the Jews’. He looked with more interest. A political, no doubt one of those many pretenders who claimed to be the Messiah. And he heard the mockery. There were the passers-by. They were laughing at him, saying that he had claimed that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.
What was unusual was that men who were considered pillars of the community were also there, senior religious leaders, and they were also having a laugh. They looked at him on the cross and they mocked him for his weakness and his powerlessness. He saved others, they said, but he could not save himself.
And even the two people crucified with him taunted him.
I don’t know what Simon thought. What is interesting is that Mark specifically tells us that this Simon was father to Alexander and Rufus – and Mark would not have mentioned their names if they were not personally known in the early Christian community.
So maybe this Simon did become a believer.
Maybe he came to realise that Jesus, forsaken by everyone, was indeed the King of the Jews, the promised Messiah.
Maybe he came to realise that Jesus chose not to save himself, but rather to go through with the cross in order to save us.
Maybe he came to realise that the temple Jesus was talking about was the temple of his body, and 3 days later the temple was rebuilt, he did rise from the dead.
And as we read these verses we realise that injustice and bad things happen; we realise that there are times in life when we have to carry very heavy burdens – often burdens that others, or circumstances, have imposed on us. Simon is forced to carry the burden for Jesus, but Jesus is the one who has chosen to take onto himself the burden of burdens. He was falsely accused, spat upon, mocked, beaten and then crucified. He was, as we will see in a few minutes, cut off from God. And he didn’t do it, out of necessity, or for himself. He did it, in love, for us.
And when we find ourselves carrying heavy burdens – whether chosen or imposed, fairly or unfairly - we know that there is one walking beside us, who chose to take onto himself the greatest of burdens, so that as we carry our burden, we discover that he is the one who carries it with us.