I have been feeling Holy Week progressing. It has this weird time-lapse unlike other weeks…it slows down the closer you get to Sunday. Today is Tuesday, and I found myself thinking, as I always do on Easter, about all the minor characters. And for some reason I’ve been thinking of Simon of Cyrene.
Like so many other people that orbited Jesus and the disciples, we know his name and a couple of basic details, and we have to infer, imagine, or ignore the rest. All we know about him was that he was from a city in North Africa, he was forced to carry the cross for Jesus, and his children were Alexander and Rufus. The fact that Alexander and Rufus are mentioned tells us that they were known to the readers of Mark’s gospel—probably part of the early church. We know he was from Cyrene and ‘passing through’.
Was he there to celebrate Passover? Was he even Jewish? Was he someone who knew Jerusalem well? Was he surprised at the parade to Golgotha, or was he an onlooker like everybody else?
And why him? Was he strong, with big shoulders and muscular arms? Was he just standing there, in a soldier’s line of sight? Did he mouth off to a Roman and have to do this as punishment? Did he feel any compassion for the figure in the crown of thorns?
And what about later? Did he put the thing down and run, eager to rid himself of the memory of taking part in a public execution? Did he stick around out of pity? Did he see the sky go dark and hear all the shouts to, around, and finally from the cross?
I have no idea. And I don’t know how a person carries Jesus’ cross and then goes and lives their life, tells that story, brings their kids up with that knowledge. And I’m jealous of whoever got ahold of the gospels first, because they probably knew. They’d heard the story from someone who was there, or only one generation removed. The witnesses were still around. You could interrupt them and ask clarifying questions. Now we just read about them. It’s incredible, what with the way documentation works, that we know as much as we do about Jesus’ last few days.
And I’m forced, once again, to remember that filling in the details is just not possible. We know all we need to know…Christ, the suffering servant, who was foretold all those centuries before, finally shouldering a universe of pain, his eyes wide open, on the way to death. I’ll say it again, what Drew says when he watches the Easter Storykeepers… “Jesus, so brave.”
So incredibly brave. Because his humanity had finally bent beneath the weight of his mission…his limitations finally out there. Can’t even carry the cross Himself. Humility incarnate.
I don’t know what Simon thought. When I get to Heaven I’ll ask him…or maybe I don’t need to know. It’s occurring to me now that the space between Jesus of Nazareth and Simon of Cyrene, however many inches or feet there was between them on the way to the hill…maybe I don’t need to know what Simon thought. He shared that space with Jesus; he of all people who ever lived, got to share in that moment. It belongs just to the two of them…and always will, until the world ends.
But we have his name and this tiny story about him, and that’s all we need. Funny, I’ve never wondered what his job or training was, what his talents were, where he was going. His existence, like mine, like yours, will always be defined by the space we share with Jesus.
We’re almost there, guys. Just a few more days until Easter.