Thursday, March 06, 2008

5th Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry his Cross

No. I do not want to pick up the Cross. What will people think of me? They will look on me as either a criminal on the way to execution, or else they will mock me for having been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was obvious that Jesus of Nazareth is rapidly becoming weaker and would have no chance of reaching Calvary unaided. Many of us saw the soldiers looking for a man who could take on the burden of the Cross, taking it from the shoulders of Jesus so that he could still make it to his place of execution.

I must have just happened to catch the eye of the nearest soldier. I was trying to avoid exactly that. I was merely curious to see why so many people had gathered to watch one captive on his way to Calvary. It seems that my curiosity was enough for the guards to decide to satisfy it in the most humiliating way possible. Were they trying to assist a victim or to find a second whom they could humiliate?

This wooden beam is quite heavy but not unmanageable and will form the crossbeam from which Jesus will be suspended. I suppose it has to be reasonably lightweight because otherwise, how could one man even lift it, never mind carry it? But, then, I am fit and strong. I imagine that for someone who has been beaten and scourged, it must be an unbearable burden, and I mean that in every sense of the word.

His load has been passed on to me and I am not happy about it. I am not an unfeeling, selfish person, but what will people think when they see me trudging through Jerusalem, surrounded by guards, heading towards Calvary? It is all very well to help Jesus, but I do have my own reputation to consider.

Perhaps one of the reasons why I was selected for this job is because I am a foreigner. I think that the Romans would not have given the responsibility to a Jew in case there should be an outcry. The Romans are, after all, an occupying force and they have oppressed Israel for quite some time now, inflicting heavy taxes and exacting relentless obedience to a law that is not theirs. The Jews are tiring of seeing their own people injured and killed and so I think that, if the Romans had chosen to humiliate a second innocent Jew today, there could have been a revolt. Jerusalem is filled with people who have come to celebrate the Passover. Any uprising would spread like wildfire and soon become unmanageable.

No. It must be that the Romans actually needed someone who was not a Jew, someone on whom they could dump a job that nobody else wanted. Their action also saved the Temple authorities from the task of lodging a complaint with Pilate. It would not look good for them to condemn one innocent man and then, at the same time, to argue against the ill-treatment of another, all in the same few hours.

So, here I am, a completely innocent stranger, here only because I wanted to conduct some business in Jerusalem whilst there were so many people around the city. Even the soldiers laughed when they saw my disgust, not only at being forced to take up the cross, but to actually handle the wood, sticky with blood. That is why I was none too gentle as I took the Cross from the shoulders of the Galilean. I suppose I might even have added to his pain. After all, he was the cause of my embarrassment, shame and hardship, even if I need only walk a short distance to Calvary, a short distance that, to me, would feel considerably longer as I carried the unsought burden of someone else.

Yes, I was disgruntled and more or less dragged the Cross from Jesus. I heard his gasp of pain that gave way to a low moan. I saw that my roughness caused more bleeding, but who was I to care? It was his fault that I was about to suffer and so he must suffer the consequences. That is justice, is it not?

…and then, Jesus looked at me. I cannot describe that glance. It was an apology for the consequences that I must experience on his behalf. It was gratitude for having, even unwillingly, taken up his Cross. It was relief that at least part of his burden was removed from his shoulders. It was an agony of pain, desolation and loneliness: as if he felt that he had been abandoned even in the midst of the crowd. There was a strange determination to continue along the Via Crucis even to Calvary, at whatever the cost.

I can think of no other way to describe the effect of my taking the Cross of Jesus upon my own shoulders than to say that, even in his agony, he now walks more erect and more determined than ever to see this through to the bitter end. His head, though bowed by suffering, is not conveying subjugation so much as a sense of taking part in something far beyond anything that I, or anybody else, can either see or understand. In the midst of the rowdy bystanders, there is almost a pool of silence and tranquillity, which sounds a contradiction because the actual level of noise has not diminished for one instant. Quite simply, I have no words that can describe exactly what happened when I lifted the Cross from Jesus and took it upon myself.

Neither can I describe what is happening to me as I walk with him and, like him, stumble on the way. Yes. I feel ashamed, but no longer because of what others might think, but, rather, because of my earlier unwillingness to help and my desire to be anywhere other than close to Jesus. I am ashamed of myself, not for myself, and that is the difference. No longer do I care what the crowd is saying about me. I am merely sorry that I took so long to accept the Cross.

I will never forget this day. Jesus has changed me forever.