Fifth Station: The Cross Is Laid on Simon of Cyrene
February 26, 2016 Comments Off on Fifth Station: The Cross Is Laid on Simon of Cyrene
Artists: Jacqui Taylor Basker and Ihsan Bandak
“They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. (Mark 15:21)”
Who was Simon of Cyrene and why was he chosen to help carry Jesus’ cross? The brevity of Mark’s account seems to ask more questions than answer, even as this story is well worn in our memories of Jesus’ Passion narrative. Some commentators have suggested that because Cyrene was located in Northern Africa that Simon might have been black, and hence conspicuous in the crowd. Others have suggested that Simon might have been a slave and pressed into service of the Romans because he was a slave. Others merely just see Simon as someone who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whatever the case is, it is clear that Mark makes a point that Simon is other, a foreigner from the crowd and that this foreigner has no choice in helping Jesus carry his cross.
From the perspective of those hearing Mark’s account, commentaries have suggested that Rufus and Alexander were mentioned because they were leaders in the Christian community of Mark’s time and that this story which appears in three of the Gospels was part of oral history. Certainly recording the eyewitnesses of Jesus death would be compelling enough to pass down. However, I wonder if there was not a certain irony for those who passed down the story that made it additionally compelling to tell. Simon, who was not at all part of the crowd watching Jesus on his way to die, was asked to carry the cross that would eventually become redemptive for Simon and all of us by Jesus’s death. If one did not know the end of the story, one might simply see this as a story about state sponsored violence that pressed Simon into service. Yet, knowing the end, it becomes a narrative of carrying someone else’s death in order that we all might live.
In my own life I feel sometimes that I am carrying on the burdens of others which I did not choose and seemed to have chosen me instead. It can feel oppressive, lonely, and even unfair — why me? When I think about Simon, I could very well imagine that if it were me, not knowing the end of the Jesus story that I would have been asking, “Where are you, God?” Of course, God was fully present, full with love for and with Simon even as he was carrying what would be ultimately redemptive.
St. Bonaventure often wrote about about God’s love bent low for us and how the cross is part of that humility of God. Ilio Delio summarizes this well:
What Bonaventure (like Francis) realized in the mystery of the Incarnation is that God bends over in love to meet us where we are…The humility of God means that God’s love is so abundant that God is willing to plunge into the darkness of humanity to bring us into the fullness of life. That is why God’s humility is expressed most vividly in the cross because God could not bend over any further in love for us than in the suffering and death of the cross.
Ilia Delio, The Humility of God: A Franciscan Perspective, (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005), 52-53.
Coming from this perspective, Simon was able to become an unexpected partner in God’s love for us. God’s humility was such that Simon was part of carrying this love, even as it might have seemed humiliating to Simon to be forced into cooperating with the state that would eventually kill Jesus. It’s worth noting that none of Jesus’ disciples were part of carrying this love burden, and yet someone who from another place, not part of Jesus’ followers, someone who just passing by was able to cooperate with this love.
How do we carry the burdens of others’ given to us and in what ways is God with us in love bent low? I think Mary Oliver’s Heavy can give us some insight about how it’s all in the way we carry that “love which has no reply.”
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
I went closer,
and I did not die.
had His hand in this,
as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poets said,
was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry
but how you carry it—
books, bricks, grief—
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it
when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?
Have you heard
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?
How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
to which there is no reply?
– Nicole Hanley