I’m powerfully struck by the notion that Simon of Cyrene was just a stranger, a man on his way into Jerusalem who knew nothing of Jesus or his teachings. Some soldier saw him, and decided to expand the mocking and torture of one Jew to another Jew, making no distinction between the person on his way to be crucified and the man who was simply passing in the street. Brutal power often behaves in this way – it has no interest in the individual, but is interested in repressing a people, and always wants to bring home the message that what is done to one person can easily be done to anyone. This is violence without hatred – a clinical violence that chooses to make victims so that everyone will be quelled and afraid.
Did Simon glance at Jesus as he was carrying the cross? Did he wonder about this man who seemed to have followers, who was met by women and trailed by disciples? Portrayals in legend and culture show him becoming a disciple, claiming that his carrying of the cross was somehow transformative. And I think that it must have been. If noting else, it would remind him of his own fragility, the danger he and everyone else were in daily. But since I view the carrying of the cross as a powerful metaphor for the spiritual life, I tend to believe that to actually carry the cross is to be provided with a frame through which to view one’s own suffering. I don’t know what other suffering in life Simon must have endured, but perhaps that brief moment on the streets of Jerusalem gave him a way to think about, feel within, and live with suffering.