July 16, 2018

The Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene Carries the Cross

The Procession to Calvary by Pieter Bruegel the Elder


“A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the Father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross” (Mark 15:21 with references in the Meditation to Exodus 12:1-36, Matthew 16:24, Luke 23:26, Romans 16:13).


Jesus staggers. The cross beam he is carrying is more than half his weight and he is nearly dead already. He’s fallen once and through clouds of pain and weakness that threaten to snuff out consciousness he hears weeping. They are the voices of the women who have followed him through the streets of Jerusalem. His own mother is among them. Knowing of their sorrow … her sorrow … causes compassion to rise even in his agony.

The procession has come to an intersection of streets and streaming people. The ones accompanying Jesus follow along to witness his crucifixion. In the case of some, it is out of perverse curiosity, the permeating influence of Rome’s lust for public bloodshed or in the case of those who love him, helpless horror. Converging on them are pilgrims coming in from the country, on their way to celebrate Passover. The holy feast is a time to remember how, on the eve of their escape from Egypt, God instructed Israel to put the blood of a sacrificed lamb on the lintel and posts of each home’s doorway. The angel of death that came striking down the firstborn of every Egyptian household that night passed over Israel’s families as they obeyed the command.

The lead guard calls a halt, ordering his subordinates to untangle the knotted crowd and give the rabbi a moment to rest. They want him alive for the crucifixion.

Jesus is trembling with fatigue and weakness. Every muscle quavers. Sweat burns his eyes, nausea rises as his hands and feet grow numb. The blackness of unconsciousness is about to overtake him. He sees the Roman looking at him. Comprehension sparks in the guard’s eyes. “Don’t die on me, Rabbi.”

The guard looks across the road and quickly scans the ones coming into the city. “You there!” He lunges for a sturdy-looking man wearing the clothing of a country dweller. “What is your name?”

It’s Simon from Cyrene. The guard orders him to carry the rabbi’s cross the remainder of the way to Golgotha. Wordlessly, the man approaches Jesus. His face is a mask, but a mixture of fear and annoyance are in his eyes. He is afraid to anger the Roman guards by refusing. They could arrest him for any reason. Yet, this detour is clearly not in his plans today. Jesus feels the exhalation of the man’s breath on the side his face as Simon leans in to retrieve the beam from his mutilated back. Here is another new agony – that of needing help – that of knowing his cross will bloody this man’s clothes.

A remembrance floods Jesus’ mind. It is of the paralyzed man he healed not long ago in Capernaum. He had been preaching in a house overflowing with people and he knew that there were many outside waiting to see him. All at once clods of debris rained down on them. There was a scuffle above them and voices. He stopped in midsentence and looked up. Men were making a hole in the roof.

As it was, four of them lowered the man lying on a woven mat down in front of him. It still moved him … their faith and tenacity to see their friend healed … their friend’s dependence and acquiescence to be helped. Now, he is touched anew. As he looks at Simon he is struck with the knowledge that, like the paralytic, he must depend. He must acquiesce. It’s what he must do to enter into the weakness and suffering of human need.

The Cyrenian must take his cross for Jesus. Doing so will be a detour from the man’s intent today … and for the rest of his life. Indeed, this cross will inconvenience the plans of many in the days and years and millennia to come. It will bloody some as well, including most of his closest disciples in the not so distant future.

Thanksgiving and humility fill him as his eyes lock with Simon’s. The man doesn’t know it, but more than a day’s inconvenience and danger are his today. Faith is about to be born in his house. Just as he will help carry Christ’s cross, his son, Rufus, will help carry forward the faith born of it. Simon also does not know that the eyes searching his are those of the true Passover Lamb … and this cross its altar of sacrifice.

Just in time, Jesus feels the weight of the beam lifted off his back. It is a sweet, temporary relief. The guard shoves him. “Let’s move.” He hears the steps behind him and knows that Simon is carrying the cross and following him.


Sometimes I will need help, though it may pain me to accept it … to realize that I am not strong enough to bear my own burdens. Instead of reacting with pride or resistance, I want to graciously and gratefully receive it, whether it is human or divine help.

Sometimes I will be the one who can give help. Instead of reacting with annoyance or resentment I want to welcome the opportunity and view it as serving Christ himself.


Father, I ask for a willingness to submit when you interrupt my plans with yours. Please forgive me for the annoyance I feel over small interruptions or my fear and rebellion over those that are life changing. No matter what they are, I need your grace to welcome them and let you have your unhindered way in me.

Jesus, I need strength to carry the cross you give me to carry. I need the perseverance to do it every day. I need to come into sympathy with you and your desires as I walk through the life you have given me.

Spirit, if you call me to be bloodied by my encounters with Christ, endangered in serving him, I will need your power and grace. I possess none of my own.


We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world


  1. Well spoken. All praise to you, Jesus Christ, King of endless glory!

  2. Denise Spencer says:

    How appropriate to imagine Jesus remembering the paralytic’s dependence.

    “…The Cyrenian must take his cross for Jesus. Doing so will be a detour from the man’s intent today … and for the rest of his life. Indeed, this cross will inconvenience the plans of many in the days and years and millennia to come. It will bloody some as well, including most of his closest disciples in the not so distant future…” Wonderful insights so well expressed. Thank you, Lisa.

  3. Steve McFarland says:

    I have always been fascinated by this story. I really like this idea of Jesus being now dependent on help. Mike Spencer and I discussed years ago about how people read scripture and will focus on the work of man in a particular story versus the power of God. A classic example is preaching about the sacrifice of the child giving up his lunch for Jesus to feed the multitude and how we must follow that example. The focus is on what the child does – not on the fact that Jesus just fed thousands out of almost nothing.

    The story of Simon of Cyrene is also often preached the same way – the focus being on how important what this man does in that moment is – that Jesus needed help. A beloved bible teacher I know has suggested that by Simon lifting the cross – he may have, in fact, put all the burden of its weight on Jesus. The weight of the cross would have been less if Jesus dragged it along the ground but considerably more if the opposite end was lifted up. With that Jesus took on the full weight. The symbolism of that should not be lost – that Christ carries the burden alone. Thanks so much for this meditation.