Monday, April 03, 2006

Simon of Cyrene
A Lenten meditation

Simon of Cyrene

Not long ago, I was talking with a friend at work about Jesus’ final journey through Jerusalem. I mentioned Simon of Cyrene. Though my friend is a Christian, he was unfamiliar with this character, who makes a brief appearance in the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion.

As the Roman soldiers led Jesus to the cross, after beating him and mocking him, Jesus stumbled under the heavy weight of the cross. As the Gospel writers explain,
"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)
"And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross." (Matthew 27:32)

No one knows much about Simon. Cyrene was a city in northern Africa, so Simon may have been an African Jew.
Mark writes of Simon’s sons, Rufus and Alexander, as if first-century Christians were familiar with them. It is entirely possible Simon became a Christian — one of the first black saints in Christian history — and his sons became well-known in the early Christian movement.

We can say for sure Simon of Cyrene’s encounter with the Messiah was unexpected. Simon was there, and he was called into service to assist Jesus. He did so.

Simon literally picked up the cross, and followed his Lord.

How much are we like this Simon — busy with the routine of ordinary life, minding our own business — when we run smack into the Lord?

It may not be at the time we planned. It may not be convenient. It may not be pretty. But the time is of his choosing, not ours, and there are no “chance” encounters with Christ.

How many chances do we have to better know the risen Christ, but ignore them? How many opportunities do we have to do the work of the Lord, but pass them up?

Dear Lord, give me the grace to find moments of encounter with you. Give me a willing spirit and a strong back to do your work.

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