A Passerby Compelled


The brief account of Simon of Cyrene has always fascinated me. If a gospel writer like Mark were simply recounting for future audiences the events of Jesus’ death, a brief note about Jesus’ stumbling and struggling under the weight of the cross and the Romans forcing a random man from the crowd to help Him would suffice. But the man has a name! And, what’s more, he has two sons who are named!

Who knows what transpired in those moments between Jesus and Simon besides the very practical, grueling matter of getting the cross up Calvary’s hill so Jesus could at last be nailed to it and die. We don’t know all the specifics, but apparently something more happened for Simon than just another bullied inconvenience by the Romans. Did Jesus speak to Simon? Did He invite the visiting Cyrenian to personally trust in what He was about to do?

Whether they were there watching and had to follow along as their dad helped the struggling Galilean or only heard about it that night at supper, Rufus and Alexander appear to have been changed as well. You see it’s them, not their father, whom Mark holds up as the eyewitnesses—whom the evangelist sites as reliable, trustworthy sources for the facts of Jesus’ death. All indications are that by the time Mark wrote his Gospel, Simon of Cyrene was no longer living but both of his sons were.

Simon may at first have been supremely annoyed at the imposition of carrying a condemned man’s cross, of being publicly identified with another’s guilt; he may have been irritated at the Roman bullies for threatening him if he didn’t comply with their order; or he may have been sympathetic and somewhat willing to lend a hand to yet another Jew being mistreated and made a spectacle of by the brutal imperialists. Whatever his attitude toward the encounter at first, he raised two sons who eventually are named as trusted testifiers to Jesus. One of them, Rufus, was very likely the one to whom Paul sends greetings in Romans 16:13, along with greetings to his mother (likely Simon’s widow). Paul says to “salute” them!

May we be like Simon! May it be that our momentary help in advancing the cross of Christ in this world—though a bloody, burdensome business—will have a generational impact. May it be that we each in identifying with the shame and the brutal beauty of our Savior’s death, in our words and way of life, leave in our wake still more trusted witnesses, those whom all the saints will one day salute for their faithful testimonies!