Jesus' Unwilling Helper
Jesus has been sentenced to death. In company with two rough outlaws He makes His way to that skull-shaped hill called Calvary. (This paragraph is roughly based on the imagination of Clarence chapel in Faces About the Cross (c. 1925).) Evidently about the same time this procession was marching from Herod's palace, a man named Simon started toward the feast at Jerusalem. He must have encountered the large crowd going out of the city, and perhaps even heard someone say, "We're going to Calvary to execute some prisoners!" His curiosity must have gotten the best of him as he elbowed his way through the crowd till he had a ring-side seat. As he watched, one Prisoner staggered and fell. He must have grimaced as the cross crushed the battered Man into the cobblestone street. At that sight, perhaps, having satisfied his curiosity, he decided to lose himself in the crowd and continue toward the festivities. But it was not to be. Though he did not know it, he had a part to play in the world's history. The centurion's eye had already lighted on him as a replacement back on which to put the cross. Having been drafted, he carried the cross the rest of the way to Calvary.
Life did not go according to script.
As Simon went his carefree way, suddenly his day's plans were knocked to pieces. He was forced to go the opposite direction from what he had chosen. He was on his way into the city to enjoy the feast's tastes, now he was on his way out of the city to endure Golgotha's sights. Palestine was an occupied country and any citizen could be made to serve any Roman soldier at any time with just the tap on the shoulder with the flat of his spear. This soldier must have pointed at Simon from far off Cyrene (modern Tripoli) and said something like, "You, there, make yourself useful! Take up that cross and get going!" No doubt Simon had scraped and saved all his life so he could eat one Passover at Jerusalem (every Jew's dream). Imagine his feelings as he reached down to lift that rough beam to lug it down the road. He had come to Jerusalem to realize his cherished ambition, and he found himself walking to an execution carrying a criminal's cross!
Some of us can sympathize with Simon. Our lives have not gone the direction we dreamed of in high school and college. The perfect family in the two-story mansion with a white picket fence never really materialized. The high-paying job and the full social schedule are somebody else's as we struggle to keep the bill collectors satisfied for another month. The perfect children who make all A's and star on the football team don't live at our house. Perhaps the Christian family we thought would be excited about worship and serving God evolved into one struggling to go while the other fusses about contribution and no family time. Perhaps a health problem has hampered pursuit of any dram except just managing not to be a burden on others. Yes, many of us can understand Simon's situation.
Life forced him to bear another's burden.
Simon was quite sure the heavy load that just crushed Jesus to the ground was none of his affair. He would never have involved himself, but he had no choice in the matter. He was compelled. As he lifted this heavy cross, it might not have been its weight alone that reddened his face. Anger from bearing such a shameful burden may have tinged his cheeks. No doubt he was bitter toward the Romans. Anger is seldom reasonable, so Simon may well have looked at Jesus, not with sympathy, but with indignation for having involved him in His crime. (In anger at life's unfair circumstances, many today look at God in anger.) Thus, full of resentment, he likely sulked toward Calvary as bitter as any man in that whole city.
Life may force us to unwillingly bear another's burden. It may involve taking an aging relative into our homes (Psa. 71:9, 18). It may be dealing with a child born with some handicap or with a spouse's failing health in the later years. It could be accepting a relative's financial obligations when they can't do for themselves (1 Tim. 5:16). It may be taking in a grandchild to rear when this seems the only way the little fellow has a decent shot at life (Prov. 22:6). Yes, we may have to bear another's burden.
Life evidently changed forever for the better.
What was Simon's reaction to this forbidding experience? It is not what life does to us that really matters; it is our reaction to what life does. "To them that love God," declares Paul, "all things work together for good" (Rom. 8:28). It is interesting to follow what we know of Simon from this time on. In Acts 13:1 (perhaps written about A.D. 45), there is a Simeon called "Niger." Simeon is another form of Simon and Niger was the King James term for a man of swarthy skin who came from Africa (Cyrene was in Africa) (Barclay). Many scholars believe this is the same man. If so, Simon had been converted to the Lord whose cross he carried! Add to this, Mark describes him as Alexander and Rufus' father (15:21). We identify a man by his sons only when they are well-known to those to which we wrote. Thus, when Mark was written (A.D. 55-60), Alexander and Rufus must have been well-known Christians. Further, most think Mark was written to the church at Rome. To them Paul writes, "Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine" (Rom. 16:13). It could be that this is the same Rufus, son of Simon of Cyrene, who ended up in the church of Christ at Rome. If this speculation is true, the whole family had been converted (note his mother is also mentioned). That which had seemed his day of shame became his day of glory!
Either way, the application to us remains the same. Let us be flexible in life, allowing for unforeseen changes without bitterness (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:19). Let's "bear one another's burdens" (Gal. 6:2 with a song in our hearts and not a frown on our faces. Think of Joseph. Full of dreams, he left his father's tent one morning to visit his brothers down at Dothan (Gen. 37:17). But when his harsh brothers saw him coming, they formed different plans for him. In bitter hate, they tore off his sporty coat and pitched him into an old well. Soon merchants headed for Egypt came by, and one brother (with an eye for business) suggested, "Let's not kill him, lest his blood be on our hands. Let's sell him, then we shall not only be guiltless of his blood, but we shall be twenty dollars to the good." Since "business is business" they all agreed that such an opportunity must not be passed up. They thus tore all his plans into shreds and changed the entire course of his life. Instead of turning back to his father's tent, he headed toward a palace on the Nile. Nonetheless, he didn't become bitter or sullen. He made the best of his situation, and ended up--many years later--at Pharaoh's right hand (Gen. 41:40). God worked it for good, though Joseph could not have seen it in that way years before.
When we find ourselves far from where we would have chosen to be, bearing a burden that rightfully is not ours to carry, let's bring God greater glory by creasing our countenances with cheerful smiles.