And they led him (Jesus) out to crucify him. And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. (Mark 15:20c-21)
The processional to the place of execution was moving too slowly. The prisoner could not keep up with the desired pace because he was exhausted, battered, and spent. Up all night, hungry, scourged, and now forced to carry a beam of wood that a healthy man would labor to carry – if he carried one at all.
Thus, they found a healthy man, a face in the crowd, but one who was sturdy and strong. Who knows what work he did. Maybe he was a farmer or a craftsman. His job now? To pick up the crossbeam and follow.
Simon ventured to Jerusalem from the country, maybe because he stayed there as a pilgrim rather than stay in the city. He hailed from North Africa, the Greek city of Cyrene. Maybe he moved to the outskirts of Jerusalem, a wanderer returning from the Diaspora and wanting to live in the homeland of his ancestors. It does not matter in the moment. He was a face in the crowd and he was compelled to carry the cross of Jesus and follow.
There is an echo in the wind that whips through this procession. If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. Simon may have been forced carried the cross of Christ, but he was carrying his own cross, though he did not know it. He carried the cross on which would hang the sin of the world, including his own. AS he followed Jesus to the brow of Golgatha, he followed with the instrument of sure death for Jesus and sure life for himself.
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
And we are called to take up the cross and follow. No, it is not the cross some people think of when they feel hard pressed to carry a particular unwanted burden, “Well that is just my cross to bear.” This is a choice. We are called to choose to take up an instrument of death and follow Jesus.
Simon appeared not to have a choice in the matter. But we do. As I stand, gazing at the Lord who will die for me, would I interrupt the train to Skull Hill to grab the cross? Will I take it up now, dying to myself and my will to take up His will and follow?
Lord Jesus, you became sin for me. While you could not carry the cross all the way to the Hill, you would still be secured to it with no escape. You did not just carry my sin there with that wood. You became my sin and set me free. Now you bid me follow you and be willing to lay my life down not for sin, but for love. You bid me deny myself, take up the cross, and follow. Oh, that I will daily have the will to make that choice.