Many years ago, when I was a novice, our class was studying the Church’s teaching of the Mystical Body of Christ. After our instructions, all of the novices went out for a walk with our directress. Trying to process what we were learning, one of the novices naively asked, “What part of the Mystical Body of Christ do you see yourself as?” We all contemplated the question. One novice after the other responded, “The heart,” “His eyes,” “His hands,” “His mouth.” More silence. I responded, “His feet!” “WHAT? Why that?” came the response. I continued, “The feet are the part of the body that touches the earth. I want to carry Christ to the created world.”
As I think about this memory now, I pause to reflect on this simple fact: Jesus of Nazareth’s entire life was dedicated to what the Father wanted Him to do. Everything he said and did was a direct tie to the Father. After all, Jesus said to Phillip, “When you see me, you see the Father.” (John 14:9) Even though Jesus was so determined to let the Father be known, He needed a human to fulfill what the Father wanted.
I bet you’re wondering, “How can you say that?” You see, as much as Jesus was focused on bringing salvation to the broken human race, He needed a human being to assist Him. Remember that the Roman guards were afraid that Jesus would die on the way to Calvary, so they forced Simon of Cyrene to carry His cross.
Have you ever wondered who this Simon was? What we do know about him was that he was present at the crucifixion. He was mentioned by name only three times in the entire Scripture. And, he was “coming from the country.”
Several scholars say that he was in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and that he was from the Jewish population who lived in Cyrene. If this is the case, having such a close encounter with Jesus would make him ritually impure to celebrate such an important feast. Because of this, the Roman guards would receive the scorn of the populace, something that they really did not want. So, they might have picked a foreigner, as evidenced by his dress, to carry the cross. We can find the account of Simon’s actions in Matthew 27:32, Luke 23:36, and Mark 15:21.
Mark’s Gospel gives us the most detail about Simon. He had two sons named Alexander and Rufus. Evidently, these men were known to the individuals for whom Mark wrote his Gospel. After the crucifixion, there is no direct mention of Simon. Tradition tells us that he journeyed to Egypt, where he was martyred around year 100 by being sawed in half.
Why is he important? Simon of Cyrene was just not a person mentioned in Scripture in a passing fashion. He helped Jesus fulfill His mission. He followed Jesus in the midst of His suffering. In short, he lived Luke 9:23, which says, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
Simon also walked behind Jesus. He encountered the entire process of the journey to Calvary with the same perspective Jesus did. He saw the weeping women, the angry people, and the brisk dealings of the Roman guards. He felt the burdens that Jesus had at that very moment. Simon is an example of discipleship; picking up our cross and following Jesus. In short, he brought Christ to the created world in a unique way!
We practice discipleship by following Christ in our life. As Easter approaches, can you honestly say you are like Simon? If not, you still have time. If so, consider how you can live this out beyond the Easter season. Remember, discipleship does not end with Easter!
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, The Catholic Witness