Jesus is sentenced to death, he is scourged, he carries his cross, and he is finally crucified. Besides His Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, St John and Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus seems to have few friends left in his darkest hour. And yet, in one very important line we are told of an encounter he has with a man called Simon of Cyrene. We hear that “ On their way out, they came across a man from Cyrene, called Simon, and enlisted him to carry his cross”(Mt 27:32). Simon is understandably reluctant to help Jesus carry His cross to Calvary. He would rather be elsewhere, but unfortunately for him, life has a way of throwing the unexpected at us- Simon must help carry the cross. Simon is not unique- in fact, each of us are in Simon’s shoes. Each of us is in the place of Simon every time a cross enters our life that we must carry it.
Simon reluctantly agrees to help Jesus carry the cross, and we can imagine what he might be thinking as he helps Jesus pick up the cross. Perhaps he thinks he is helping Jesus? He is helping to carry a cross that belongs to Jesus, not to himself. Yet, the fact is that the cross Jesus carries belongs to us all. It is for our sins that he is being crucified. Jesus has never done anything wrong, yet he is carrying the cross- our cross- to save each one of us. It is ironic then, that Simon thinks he is the one helping Jesus carry His cross. In fact, it is Jesus all along who is helping Simon carry Simon’s cross. Jesus carries all our crosses, and brings them to Calvary.
Simon for his part, had an encounter that day that changed his life. He encountered the Son of the Living God who was, like himself, real flesh and blood, and struggling under the weight of the cross. Simon encountered God precisely because he accepted the burden of the cross. Had he chosen to not help shoulder the cross, he never would have met Christ that day.
It is like that for each one of us every time a cross comes into our life; maybe it comes in the form of a tragedy in one’s life, or a struggle against sin, or a broken relationship of some kind. Whatever form the cross takes, each one of us stands in the place of Simon. Wherever the cross is, there is Christ. It is in embracing this cross that we come to a deeper encounter with Christ. He is there beside each of us, helping us to carry our cross. Just as he helped Simon.