Every believer is called to share the cross and follow Christ. We are also called to help others do the same. It’s messy and raw, but utterly transforming.
Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus. (Luke 23:26)
I once heard someone exclaim on hearing this verse how ‘unfair’ that was. Why should a complete stranger be yanked from the crowd to help carry a cross that wasn’t his? The irony, of course, was that they missed the point – it was as unfair to lay the cross on Christ. In fact, it was even more so because He alone was blameless among men. But another anomaly emerges when we think about this. Why did a complete stranger share the cross? I believe that the moments preceding and following the crucifixion through to the resurrection contain poignant moments of privileged intimacy between the King of Heaven and simple, ordinary people.
Who was there to share the cross?
The most obvious answer is that the disciples were not. Aside from John who was present with the woman at the crucifixion, the other disciples were in hiding. Those we would logically imagine would share the cross are conspicuous by their absence. This, sadly, is a reality all of us must face at some point—both in our Christian or secular lives. There are those whom we love and who may truly love us who will abandon us in our moment of need. The reasons may be justifiable and understandable. But the truth remains that sometimes, there will be no trusted companion to share our walk to the cross in the footsteps of Christ.
The ’flip side’ of this is that God does provide someone who will consciously or unconsciously step forward. In this case, Simon was compelled and had little choice in the matter. But often, we struggle with our burdens and choices alone when God has people in place to help us carry. We miss these because we expect help to come from different sources. Our expectations may blind us to the provision God has made. We learn from Christ. Even as the Son of God, He did not scorn the help of one to share the cross. It’s true that perhaps He couldn’t by that point, but it’s unlikely that God would have placed a man to aid Him if that was not part of the plan. The crucifixion was never under Satan’s control. The cross was God’s perfect plan. Everything surrounding it, then, was also.
To share the cross is transforming.
I believe that this was, for Simon of Cyrene, a moment of absolute transformation. He emerged from the experience an utterly changed man. But it wasn’t because of miracles or signs and wonders. It wasn’t seeing the multitude fed or hearing the beatitudes from a place at Christ’s feet. His life was impacted by being in the right place at the right time to share the cross of a condemned man. Of course, he didn’t share the actual crucifixion. All he did was help carry and this in no way implies that he assumed Christ’s divinely-appointed burden for sin. Jesus went to the cross alone, and carried the sin of the world with Him. But the lesson, of course, is that we should be willing to give and receive help at those raw and messy times in every life.
Ordinary Simon shows us that to share the cross is the burden of every believer. We follow after Christ so others see the cross and its power to salvation and new life. But it also means the laying down of self – carrying our own personal cross so that we might crucify the old man. Choices can be easily made, but sometimes, we need help to carry the burdens. When it may seem that our friends have deserted us in these moments, we can be sure that somewhere, God has raised up a Simon for us. They cannot do it for us, but at the very least, the love of Christ in them means we are not alone.
Thank You, Lord, for Your perfect and ‘unfair’ sacrifice. We honour You today for Your selfless, sacrificial love and rejoice for Your resurrection and the new life You bring to those who believe.