A sermon on the eighth Station of the Cross, “Jesus is helped by Simon,” based on Mark 15:21 and delivered on 4/15/22 as part of a series of reflections on the Scriptural Way of the Cross for the Near North Ministry Alliance’s annual Good Friday Walk. The manuscript is edited below for reading.
Mark 15:21 tells us, “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.”
Originally I selected this station because I thought of Simon as a friendly stranger who was moved by Jesus’ need and offered to help him out of a spirit of generosity. I planned to talk about those occasions when we find ourselves moved by concern and compassion to help strangers.
But that’s not how Mark reports what happened. Mark suggests that Simon helped Jesus to carry his cross because the Roman soldiers compelled him to do so. It sounds like Simon had no choice!
We know so little about Simon. We know that he was from Cyrene, in northern Africa, but we don’t know if he was a Jew or a Gentile. We don’t know how he felt about the ministry and teachings of Jesus. Nearly all we know is that when Simon was compelled to carry the cross of Jesus, he did. That is what matters.
Earlier in the gospel of Mark, Jesus told the people that if any of them wanted to follow him, they should deny themselves, and take up their cross. But now that the time has come for Jesus to carry his own cross, all of his disciples have fled in fear. So, it falls to Simon—compelled by the soldiers, chosen seemingly at random—to do what Jesus says his disciples should be doing.
We do not always have the freedom and privilege of choosing the crosses that we want to bear. Sometimes we take on heavy burdens because of love or affection; but sometimes we are compelled by circumstance, or by obligation, or seemingly at random: A family member develops a serious health condition that requires your care. A friend needs support after a devastating loss, and you’re the one they want to talk to. A relative is facing sudden financial need.
Sometimes life is like what Bishop Steven Charleston describes. Listen to what he says: “Yesterday life brought bad news and laid it at my door, like an abandoned infant placed in my care. Sometimes we receive what we do not ask, or want, or need. We are given burdens when we have burdens to spare.”
Here is what else we know: Even when life gives us burdens we did not choose to bear, our willingness to bear them is an opportunity to show love to Christ and to help him in his sufferings.
Today many of us are bearing burdens that we did not ask for. You probably don’t have to think very long to bring yours to mind. It may be the case that God wants to grant you freedom and relief from your burden. I hope that’s the case. But it may also be the case that God wants to strengthen you so you can continue to carry that burden faithfully, with great love. In those circumstances, we may find ourselves praying along with Jesus: Not my will, but yours be done.
It was customary in Jesus’ time for convicted criminals to carry their own crosses. The fact that Jesus needed help indicates he was already severely weakened by this point in the story. Simon may not had a choice about whether to carry the cross of Jesus, but he did carry it, and that offered a great kindness to Jesus in his weakness.
Whatever your burden may be, may God provide you with strength to carry it faithfully, with great love. May you take great comfort in knowing that your willingness to bear your cross is a means of showing kindness to Jesus. And may we each follow Jesus faithfully wherever he leads, trusting that we never walk alone.