I’m sure, like me, you have a long list of people you want to talk to when you get to heaven. On my list is someone not everybody might put in their Top Ten.
It’s Simon of Cyrene.
In truth, I don’t even know if I will meet him in heaven, because we have no indication from Scripture – though we do from tradition – that he ever professed faith in Jesus. I hope the tradition is right, and he did.
In Roman culture, it was common for one condemned to be crucified to carry the horizontal part of his own cross from the place of the trial to the dump outside the city where crucifixions happened; the long vertical poles would be left there for re-use.
According to the Gospel account in Luke 23.26-27 (with parallels in Matthew and Mark), though, the soldiers who accompanied Jesus to Calvary commandeered Simon of Cyrene to carry this piece for Jesus, whom they deemed was already weak enough from the beating and scourging he had endured that he would not be able to carry it himself.
This is the only canonical (i.e., Scriptural) mention of Simon of Cyrene. All we know about him from the Bible is that he was from Cyrene – a city in north Africa – and that he was appointed (by force, it seems, since he was “seized”) to carry Jesus’ cross for him. Mark mentions his two sons, Alexander and Rufus. But that’s all we know.
One assumes Simon was Jewish, because Jews came from all over the world, as they were able, to mark the Passover in Jerusalem. But even that is an assumption. There is a tradition that says that Simon of Cyrene returned to Africa and shared the gospel with the people of Egypt, but there is little to back this up, even if it is true.
But since the Lord is not into wasting words, we are left wondering why Simon of Cyrene even gets mentioned. The Gospel writers simply might have said that a passerby was pressed into service, but the three Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – all mention him by name.
That’s why I hope to meet him in heaven. The fact that he was mentioned by name piques my curiosity.
I want to know what it was like to carry that crossbeam. I want to know what he thought of the whole situation, how he beheld Jesus in such a weary and beaten state. I want to know if he stayed at Calvary to watch Jesus die, to hear his last words, to see the sky go dark, to hear of the temple curtain torn in two.
Simon is perhaps the most literal illustration of Jesus’ exhortation to his followers: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Luke 9.23-24, NLT).
On this Good Friday, be inspired by Simon of Cyrene. Take up your cross – not only today, but every day.