As they led him away they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus (Luke 23:26).
Rev. David Smith, professor of theology in Magee College, Londonderry, first published The Days of His Flesh in 1905. The book is a retelling of the life of Jesus that blends narrative elements from all four gospels. Smith’s work is scholarly, but he’s never reluctant to throw in a piece of vivid detail that has grown up around the gospel texts. Such is the case in this passage describing how Simon of Cyrene was ordered to step in and bear the cross of Jesus to the site of crucifixion.
Looking around for one whom they might impress, the soldiers spied a man who had been about to enter the city as the procession poured through the gateway. He was a Hellenistic Jew named Simon from Cyrene, a North African city where a large Jewish colony resided; and he had come up to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast. He has his lodging outside the walls of the city, and he was on his way to the temple to join in the morning prayer. All unexpectedly and sorely against his will he was called to a holier service (David Smith, The Days of His Flesh, 492-93).
As Smith tells it, all Simon wanted to do was make the morning prayer service at the temple. I picture him hurrying, wanting to be on time – much the same way many of us make our way to the place of worship each week. His objectives are worthy. He is a devout man attending to the practices of his religion.
And then he gets stuck in traffic. A throng of spectators are following Jesus to the place outside the city known as Golgotha. Somehow Simon attracts the attention of the Roman guards and he is conscripted; he takes the cross to his own shoulders. He’ll not make the prayer service.
The cross is indeed an interruption. Many of us are content to make our way to the weekly services. We faithfully attend and do what we believe our faith requires of us. This is a good thing and most days we feel satisfied with that. And then we encounter the cross.
The cross won’t allow us to settle for the weekly scramble to the place of worship. It calls us to a “holier service,” as Smith puts it. The cross demands that we trade religious duties for a walk with Jesus. That walk can take us to places we didn’t plan to go. It can bring discomforts we didn’t ask for; it can disturb our routines. For people content with religion, the cross is terribly inconvenient.
Look ahead to the day you’ve been given. The cross means your plans may be interrupted. Where might you be asked to walk a hard path with Jesus today?
In all I have planned for this day, Lord Jesus, I want to walk with you. Make me ready to take up a cross. Prepare my mind and spirit so that I will not resent the interruptions you bring my way. Use me for a holier service according to your will. Amen.