My May Column – Simon of Cyrene

Way of the Cross 5


Simon of Cyrene is made to carry the cross.


Simon had come into Jerusalem, presumably to celebrate the Passover. He is mentioned in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In Mark’s gospel he is named as the father of Alexander and Rufus. I assume from that he was known to the disciples.


Simon was probably expecting to spend the festival with friends and enjoy the event in good company. He could never have expected that he would be accompanying a condemned man and playing a central role in his final walk to his death. This would be a very public role. He would not be in the background but would walk step by step with the figure of abuse. Simon would share the abuse.


Simon had come into the city for the Passover. He would expect to share in the Passover meal and the rituals it involved. He would spend the evening with his friends enjoying the singing, storytelling and catching up with all the latest news. Perhaps he expected to learn about the events surrounding Jesus. Instead he found himself right at the centre of the story.


I wondered why Simon was at the centre of this story. He was not one of the disciples. We never heard of him before this and he was never mentioned again. Why is he shoved in front of us so boldly? Who is he? Then it struck me. Simon is really me, or perhaps a model for me. He found himself in a difficult situation, much against his will, but he got on with it and carried the cross.


You must have found yourself in situations like that. You are busy; you have plans. Then you are called upon to help someone. Perhaps they ask for help or someone directs them to you. You may not know them or worse, you do know them and you don’t get on with them. What do you do? Do you help or do you walk away? Why should you be put in this situation?


You are busy. I know I am. Just ask my wife; when there is cleaning to do or dishes to put away then I usually have something important to do. There is so much to do and so little time. Sometimes we are too busy to get involved with other people, sometimes even too busy for God. Perhaps we don’t pray as often as we should. Mind you, there are those times when a prayer springs to our lips moments of danger or times of worry. We pray for help from the only really reliable source, God.


What do we expect in answer to our prayers? When that young guy in his sporty car cuts in in front of us and we feel that a collision is imminent we instinctively call on God. What are we expecting? Is it angel Gabriel swooping down and pulling the car away? When we are confronted with a difficult situation and pray for help do we expect God to pop in and sort it out? That’s not how it works.


What usually happens is that someone comes along and we find a solution. God answers our prayers by using other people to help us. The person who helps usually does not realise that they have been used in this way. It’s not unnatural to feel put out at having to help someone when you are busy. Even Jesus experienced this.


In St. John’s gospel we read about Jesus and his mother at a wedding in Cana in Galilee. As we all remember, the wine ran out causing a worry for the family.

When they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the wedding was all finished,the mother of Jesus said to him, “they have no wine”. Jesus said, “Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.”

John 2: 3,4

Jesus found himself in the situation that many of us encounter. Despite his reluctance he sorts out the problem. Admittedly, I would be at a loss in turning water into wine, but rest assured we are never called on to help when we are not capable of sorting the problem out.


Simon’s example is, perhaps, an extreme one. He was made to suffer the abuse along with Jesus. Sometimes we can suffer similarly when helping someone who is regarded as bad or otherwise unworthy. How often have you heard someone comment on the lawyer defending a notorious murderer saying “How could they defend someone like that. They should be ashamed.” Defence lawyers can suffer in the same way as Simon did.


The same sort of thing can happen with those who help asylum seekers or speak up for human rights. They become associated with a group who might be looked down on. I recall speaking with volunteers who worked with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. They were finding it difficult to recruit new members. They found that people would happily give money to help but didn’t want to be associated with the poor.


So, if Simon is a model for me, what sort of changes should I be looking to make in my life and my attitude to others? I think I need to start by asking myself if I am really willing to help others. Am I up for carrying the cross? When someone is in need of help do I notice? Am I blissfully unaware of their plight?


I mentioned the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. The volunteers there, by joining the society, have made room in their lives for the problems faced by other people. How will I make room in my life for others? There are plenty of organisations in need of volunteers who are willing to help others.


Now you might complain that I am suggesting that we all need to change our lives. You would be absolutely right. I think that is what being a Christian is all about. Jesus came to change the world. He created a Church to carry on his work. So to be a Christian is to be someone who wants to make changes. The changes must start with ourselves.


A few years ago on a visit to Uganda our host told us we would be given a tribal name. This is common practice there. One woman followed us around and observed how we acted and what we did and at the end of the week there she gave us our tribal names. My name was Atwoki. I was told this meant ‘Leader’.


On further travels in the country we were asked for our tribal names and I responded with Atwoki. The reaction that brought convinced me that Atwoki did not mean ‘Leader’. Rather I suspect it means something like ‘grumpy wee bald guy’.


There’s not much I can do about the bald bit but I’m sure I could be less grumpy. When we all meet together in front of the throne of God and face our final judgement we might be assigned a name that reflects our performance here during our life. I’d be ashamed to stand there and be exposed as someone like Atwoki who is self-important. I’d much rather be seen like Simon who helped Jesus carry his cross.


Joseph McGrath



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