On Friday last week, as we prayed the Way of the Cross, the character of Simon in the fifth station caught my attention in a way it had never done before. After the meditation we had the following prayer “Merciful Lord, in Simon of Cyrene, you offer us an opportunity to cooperate in our redemption. Mold our hearts to be fully open to embrace all those in need. Bless every ‘Simon of Cyrene’ whom you place on our journey and grant us the willingness and the zeal to carry the crosses of those who have no strength. Amen”. For the following couple of minutes, as the rest of the church proceeded to the sixth station, I got stuck in the fifth station as a number of questions ran through my mind- Well, yet another occurrence of those moments of weakness when my mind strays from the main activity in church and you need not worry so much about it since am still ‘work-in-progress’.
Having been from Cyrene in Africa, in the present day Libya, was Simon an African or a Jewish immigrant? Did he know Jesus previously? What ran through his mind as he carried the cross and was there any communication between him and Jesus, verbal or otherwise? What became of him after carrying the cross? For what distance did he carry the cross and did he hand it over back to Jesus at some point or he carried it all the way to Calvary? Did he wait for Jesus’ crucifixion or did he make haste and left the venue as soon as his work was done? Having been described as a bystander who was coming from the country what was his initial reaction after being conscripted to carry the cross – shock, annoyance, reluctance or may be embarrassment? Was he still in town on Sunday when Jesus resurrected? If he was, did he meet Jesus after His resurrection? Did he leave Calvary a changed man and was his life given a new sense of purpose after the encounter? Surely Simon was a figure of curiosity and yet very little about him is said in the Bible; only three verses in the whole Bible – a verse each in the Gospels on Matthew, Mark and Luke i.e. Mark 15:21,Matthew 27:32, Luke 23:26- narrate the complete story of Simon.
What struck me most about Simon’s involvement in Jesus’ life was how he was plucked from obscurity to prominence. According to the three verses above, Simon was a passerby who was on his journey from the country when the soldier grabbed and forced him to carry the cross. In an instant, by the actions of the soldiers and without being consulted, Simon was made to participate in the most important event in the history of the salvation of mankind; he got an opportunity to participate in our redemption. The Bible is full of stories of people such as David and Moses who by the workings of God were lifted from very lowly backgrounds to position of prominence but the Cyrenian one sounds more dramatic. Sometimes in life, we may find ourselves, though in a much smaller scale, in similar circumstances being picked from very humble backgrounds to positions of prominence. How do we deal with the fame and the glory and do we reflect on the role and plan of God in such circumstances?
From the prayer quoted above, we requested the Lord to mold our hearts so that we could be fully open to embrace all those in need; in other words, to be ‘Simons of Cyrene’ and participate in alleviating the sufferings of our brothers and sisters. It is a matter of conjecture that, being a human being like everybody else, Simon had his own cross in the form of daily challenges of life, but he also had the opportunity to carry somebody else’s cross and this turned out to be the most important cross he ever carried. In the same manner, the most important crosses that we will bear in our lives belong to other people and just like Simon we rarely have the luxury of choosing the crosses we are conscripted to carry. Often times, as we go about the business of our lives, we happen to be bystanders to the lives of friends, family and strangers when it suddenly occurs to us that their crosses are now ours to carry. In such circumstances we may suffer extreme injustice and unfairness but, just like Simon, it may turn out that the most important thing we will ever do in our lives is carrying someone else’s cross. We pray to God that He may grant us the grace to bear other people’s burdens as we serve Him who declared that “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
In addition, what about the call to be a ‘Simon’ to the Body of Christ, the Church? As Christians we have been called to help to provide for the needs of the church, each according to their means, by volunteering our resources, financial and human, in the various church ministries. By participating in these church ministries, for example those of the sick, the poor, the street families and other vulnerable groups, we allow the Lord to use us as vessels through which His gospel reaches the world. When we show kindness to the suffering, the persecuted and the defenseless and share in their suffering, we hope to carry that same cross of Jesus and thus obtain salvation and help contribute to the salvation of the world. A very critical ministry to which we have all been called is the one of praying for and being a good role model to the young Christians, especially the youth, as they navigate this treacherous stage in life. This is particularly critical in today’s world, an era during which technological advances have presented new challenges in relationships and family life as well as provided easy access to harmful substances and online content. Another way to be a ‘Simon’ to the church is by creating a conducive environment in our homes and neighbourhood where the vocations of priesthood and other religious are nurtured so that the church may always have adequate servants to minister to the faithful. Further, by offering our expertise, finances and time in church projects we play a crucial role in carrying Jesus’ cross as He walks the long journey towards the salvation of souls.
And who are the ‘Simons of Cyrene’ in our lives and who have helped us carry our crosses? Travelling through the various stages of life, we have encountered people who have greatly impacted our lives; people who uplifted our downcast spirits, provided guidance in spiritual as well as temporal matters, people who ‘walked a mile’ with us in our journey, people who just provided a shoulder to lean on. Do we always acknowledge the many, sometimes seemingly insignificant, sources of assistance whose actions and/or words act to ‘smoothen’, as it were, our otherwise rough journey? Do we consider such ‘Simons’ to be a gift from God and do we remember to pray for them, to thank God for them? By allowing these ‘Simons’ to participate in the carrying of the crosses in our life, we not only earn our own salvation but, just like for Simon who by participating in carrying Christ’s cross got an opportunity to participate in his own salvation, we also provide them with an opportunity to earn their own salvation – it is a win-win scenario for both parties. Consequently, we should guard against rejecting help from such ‘Simons’ by for example failing to share our troubles, deep fears and challenges of life with our trusted friends, family members or professionals since by so doing we may lose a moment of salvation both for ourselves and for them.
Suppose Simon declined to participate in the carrying of the cross?