Saturday, May 18, 2013


I never thought very deeply about the story of Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus carry His cross. Wasn't he just a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, an insignificant, curious passer-by, as he was referred to in the Scripture, who was randomly picked from the crowd? All three synoptic gospel writers recorded this event. In one of the Stations of the Cross we commemorate it. There must be more here than meets the eye. 

Where is Cyrene? I was surprised to find that it is in North Africa not far from the modern day city of Benghazi in Libya which was prominently in the news after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2012!

I searched for more information, I found that a condemned person was forced to bear his own instrument of torture, in this case at least the heavy crossbeam of a cross. But the soldiers didn't want a prisoner to die on the way up the hill to his crucifixion because that would spare him from the planned cruel torture of a deliberately slow and painful execution. A criminal was crucified in a public place where it would serve as a warning and deterent to would-be evildoers. Jesus was already staggering under the weight of the crossbeam and falling repeatedly from extreme weakness after his agonizing, prolonged scourging by the soldiers.

In various translations of this biblical passage Simon was said to have been “pressed into service” or “seized” or “compelled.” He obviously didn't volunteer; he had no choice; he was forced to do so at the point of a spear. 

Who was this Simon whom Mark so precisely identifies that he even records the names of his sons and that he had come to Jerusalem from “the country” or “the fields.”  Since Mark wrote his gospel for Jewish believers, it is likely that by the time he wrote the gospel story the inclusion of the names of his sons in Mark 15:21 may suggest that they were of some standing in the Early Christian community. Tradition says that Simon's sons Rufus and Alexander became missionaries; It has also been suggested that the Rufus mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:13 is the son of Simon of Cyrene. 

Libya is separated from the Holy Land by Egypt. Simon would have had to cross Egypt by land or come by sea. Libya was under Roman rule at that time but there was a Greek colony in North Libya along the Mediterranean Sea with a large settlement of Judean Jews.  Most of Libya is covered by the Sahara desert except for that long strip of Northern coastline where eighty percent of Libya's people live. Cyrene became an early center of Christianity in the centuries after the Church began to spread. Some also link Simon with the "men of Cyrene" in Acts 11:20 who preached the gospel to the Greeks—the Cyrenians would have known how to speak Greek. 

Why was Simon there in the crowd that was following Jesus to Golgotha? Were his sons with him? Were they adults or children? Was he a laborer or a wealthy foreign businessman? Was he a Jew from the diaspora or a dark-skinned Libyan native? Was Simon a believer in Jesus already when he carried Jesus' cross? Was he a devout Jew who was making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover according to the requirement of Judaism?  Or was he only a curious pagan caught up in the drama of a Roman execution until he became part of what was a life-changing event for himself and his sons and perhaps his heritage for generations to come?

Simon, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Did you stay at the cross after you carried it up the hill for Jesus and watch salvation history unfold? Were your sons at the crucifixion with you?  “Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?” Did you become a Christian as a result of seeing Jesus die on the cross or perhaps hearing the witness of the disciples about Jesus' resurrection? (Someone ought to write a novel about this man!)

Simon, “Were you there when the Holy Spirit came?” Were you among the 120 in the Upper Room? In the biblical account of the birth of the Church on Pentecost in Acts chapter two in the list of places from which people were present at the event, “the districts of Libya near Cyrene” was noted. Simon, “Were you there?” We can only speculate.

What is the take-away insight for us from this special event? In His suffering humanity and to accomplish His mission from His Father, Jesus allowed Simon to help carry His cross. He could have called ten thousand angels to strengthen Him to carry the heavy cross, but He permitted and welcomed a mortal man to help Him. In His teaching before the crucifixion Jesus spoke about the necessity of taking up our cross and following Him. (Matthew 16:24) On the way to Golgotha Simon didn't carry his own cross; he carried Jesus' cross.

We can't do what Simon did. We can't carry Jesus' cross. Jesus gave His life once for all on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and to obtain eternal life for us. So then, how can we bear Jesus' cross for Him now? Jesus declared that whatsoever we do for others or to others, we do as if we did it unto Him. The Lord receives it as literally done to Him! (Matthew 25:35-46) In practice then, we are to bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

Each of us has unique personal crosses to bear as well as burdens, afflictions, and problems. There is a sense in which we must with courage and God's enabling accept and bear our own cross, the cross that God has given us in His love. By this we glorify Him and give witness to Him. However, there is a further sense in which we should reach out in love and compassion to help others shoulder their crosses as Simon of Cyrene did for Jesus. By so doing, we are privileged to partake in Jesus' suffering, “For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29)


The everlasting God has, in His wisdom,
foreseen from eternity the cross
that He now presents to you
as a gift from His inmost heart.

This cross He now sends you
He has considered with His all-knowing eyes,
understood with His loving mind,
tested with His wise justice,
warmed with His loving arms,
and weighed with His own hands,
to see that it be not one inch too large
and not one ounce too heavy for you.

He has blessed it with His holy name,
anointed it with His grace,
perfumed it with His consolation,
taken one last glance at you and your courage,
and then sent it to you from Heaven,
a special greeting from God to you,
an alms of the all-merciful love of God.

Saint Francis de Sales

Sunday, May 5, 2013


It's May and spring is bursting out all over! 
I wore a green pullover for my sunshine walk today. My neighbor Doug, tilling his garden next door, commented on its appropriateness to match the lavish display of Nature.

I didn't choose green for my sweater on purpose, but thought about it as I walked to the accompaniment of bird trills in tree tops and the almost overpowering fragrance of honeysuckle and lilac, my favorites.

I'm including the poem I've written below in my current book-in-progress
"STILL MORE: FLOURISHING ON MY SUMMIT" in chapter seven entitled "Nature Flourishes on my Summit"

It seems that suddenly my whole world has turned green! The grey, dull drab of winter has given way to spring almost overnight.
When I look out the picture window from my kitchen table over the woods and vales of the Shenandoah Valley, flourishing
greenery stretches as far as my eyes can see. After God's pyrotechnic-like display for several recent stormy, windy, cloudburst nights accompanied by hiding-under-the-blanket thunder boomers, new bursts of green everywhere make it seem as if I’m living in an Amazon rain forest.
I meditated on God's marvelous idea and design to give me eyesight and all of my senses so that I can enjoy what He has created.
I can feel the fresh
green, breathe it in, hear the wind rustle through the green leaves, even taste it (in salads)!

Thank You, Lord, that I am not colorblind but can appreciate the generous, artistic splashes of color in this world which You fashioned for Your glory and the pleasure of man and then sent him forth to cultivate it.

 I praise You, O Master Artist, for selecting the background color of green when you started painting Your Earth canvas.

It must surely be
one of His favorite creation colors
not only for splendor and beauty but
as a manifestation of life and growth:
"essential to production of carbohydrates
by photosynthesis."
It was God who thought up
that marvelous synthesis process
without which we could not live!

Look at the generous way
God lavishly splashes
green around:
laying a verdant carpet for me to walk on
providing it for animals and man to eat
decorating trees with
green in spring
displaying multi-hues of
green foliage
keeping ever
greens unchanged
to contrast with blankets
of white winter snow
embracing plants and flowers
green leafy arms
that can climb walls of buildings
while providing lettuce and spinach
for my nourishment.

What a sense of humor God must have
to grow green veggies in whimsical shapes
like asparagus, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
and swish green into seaweed
in the ocean while floating green watercress
in quiet, fresh streams!

"The righteous will flourish and grow
into old age full of sap
and very GREEN"*
That means me!

Clothed in the righteousness of Christ
not in my own achievements
I should not be
like withered leaf and brown
but full of inner vitality
flowing from His dwelling in me
and I abiding in Him
flourishing like a green palm tree
bearing fruit in all seasons of my life.*

Since God is so partial to GREEN

then GREEN I aspire to be
full of Divine chlorophyll
to please Him joyfully!

*Psalm 92:12-15