All Saints Homilies:
All three of the synoptic gospels, my brothers and sisters in Christ, speak of Simon of Cyrene, compelled to bear the cross of Jesus. Now Mark, whose Gospel we just heard, tells us the most about Simon, describing him as the father of Alexander and Rufus. Now this precious little phrase, an apposition the father, of Alexander and Rufus, tells us an enormous amount. It tells us Simon of Cyrene and his family were well known among the Christians for whom Mark wrote. And according to all of the second and third century sources who speak on this subject, that congregation was Rome. Alexander and Rufus were clearly known to the church at Rome. If that tradition is correct, obviously I think it is, the Gospel of Mark was written sometime toward the end of the year 64 or through the year 65 immediately following the fire that began in Rome on July 19 of the year 64.
Now it happens about seven years before the Gospel of Mark was written we read this in Paul’s epistle to the Romans: Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine (16:13). Clearly Paul knew who Rufus was. Paul had never been to Rome, but Paul was educated at Jerusalem. From this greeting it is clear that Paul himself was familiar with his family. Most interesting we know that Rufus was in Rome. What happened to Alexander? Several years ago, it was interesting we found a sarcophagus in Jerusalem—“Alexander the son of Simon”, which is sort of interesting, it could be anybody but isn’t that sort of interesting—“Alexander the son of Simon”.
Matthew, in his account of the way of the Cross says of Simon:
Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross. (Matthew 27:32)
The Greek work meaning to compel, aggareuo, is identical to that on the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus says:
If anyone compels you to go one mile, go with him two. (Matthew 5:41)
Matthew thus indicates that Simon fulfilled the dominical command to submit to compulsion. This story links the passion narrative to the Sermon on the Mount.
Luke’s description of Simon is especially instructive, here’s the way it reads:
Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon the Cyrenian, who was coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it, (opistehen tou iesou) after Jesus. (Luke 23:26)
Luke is the only evangelist to express the matter in this way. We have the picture of Simon picking up the cross and walking after Jesus. And that is in fact the way this is normally portrayed in artwork. Simon is sort of helping Jesus with the Cross but walking behind Him.
In order to see the significance of this expression it’s useful to compare this with other passages in Luke:
Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me (opiso mou), let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)
Pick up the cross, walk after Jesus—the Christian life.
“And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me (opiso mou), cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:27)
Notice here that Luke’s wording shows that the bearing of the cross after Jesus is the true mark of discipleship. It isn’t just the question of an event. In fact, Luke is the only one of the evangelists that says take up the cross daily. It’s the way of life—take up the cross daily and walk after Jesus.
Holy Scripture gives us no reason to suppose that Simon of Cyrene had been a believer in Christ before that day when the Roman soldiers compelled him to assume the weight of the Holy Cross but that was the very beginning of his discipleship. He became the model of those who followed Jesus to the place of crucifixion outside the walls of Jerusalem. As they came out says Matthew 27. They led him out says Mark 15. Outside the wall, following Jesus carrying the cross, now that’s the picture of the Christian life.
Carrying Jesus’ cross, Simon shared in Jesus’ shame. He paid heed to that exhortation in the Epistle to the Hebrews which is addressed equally to all Christians and to us here this morning:
Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.
Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach. (Hebrews 13:12-13)