Friday, March 29, 2024

Christianity is not a spectator sport: When Your Name is Called You Go In: Wit Simon, Alexander, and Rufus

Selected Lenten Reflections, Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent: Good Friday of The Lord's Passion: Simon of Cyrene,  Alexander and Rufus.

Christians, non-Christians and non believers must enter the game, willingly or not, just like Simon of Cyrene and his sons Alexander and Rufus. Rufus ("Red") is mentioned in Mark 15:21 with his brother Alexander, whose father "Simon a Cyrenian" was compelled to help carry the cross on which the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified.

"And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross."

According to Easton's Bible Dictionary, he was probably the same Rufus mentioned in Romans 16:13, whose mother, were among those to whom Paul sent greetings in his epistle to the Romans; this is speculated to be Rufus of Thebes.

The difference is that Christians are already in the ballpark.  Call it what you want — chance, fate, destiny or Providence. For Christians, it is blessed serendipity.

“Conversion is the work of God and a mystery of grace, but grace flows to us through Christ’s Body. People coming into the Church are ready to receive. We must be ready to give.” —Fr. Richard T. Whittington in “Conversion in an Age of Choice”⁠

Outside of several passages in Scripture (Matt. 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26), there is not much more information about Simon of Cyrene and his sons Alexander and Rufus.

Simon of Cyrene drafted to carry the Cross

Of course, Simon of Cyrene is known for helping Jesus carry his cross to Calvary.  We do not know whether he was ready to enter the game or not.  Only that he did. We know that before He was crucified Jesus and His Apostles go to Gethsemane to pray. Mt. 26:36. With Peter, James and John, He enters the olive grove. Mt. 26:37 and the apostles can't stay awake: “Could you not watch one hour with Me?” Mt. 26:40. “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation.” Mt. 26:41

Then Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss. Mt. 26:48. “Having seized Jesus, they led Him away to the high priest’s house.” Lk. 22:54 and the unthinkable happens: His disciples abandon Him. Mt. 26:56.

We also know Jesus was taken before the High Priest where He is falsely accused, buffeted and insulted. The Jewish leaders take Jesus before Pilate, for only he can impose the death penalty. Pilate can “find no cause in Him”, yet to appease the Jews, he orders Jesus to be scourged.The scourge is made of leather thongs to which are attached small sharp bones. Jesus is bound to a pillar and cruelly scourged until His whole body is covered with deep wounds. The Lamb of God offers His suffering for the sins of mankind. Jesus suffers so much in His sacred flesh to satisfy, especially, for sins of the flesh.The prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled: “He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins.

Before the high priest Annas, one of the guards strikes Jesus in the face. Jn. 18:22. Annas sends Jesus, bound, to the high priest Caiphas. Jn. 18:24. They sought false witnesses against Jesus that they might put Him to death. Mt. 26:59. Peter denies three times that he is a disciple of Jesus. Jn. 18:17,25,27. Jesus is brought before Pilate, for only he can issue a death sentence. Jn. 18:31. Pilate can find no guilt in Jesus. Jn. 18:39. To appease the Jews, Pilate has Jesus scourged. Jn. 19:1. “It was our infirmities that He bore, our sufferings that He endured.” Is. 53:4. “He was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins.” Is. 53:5. “By His stripes we were healed.” Is. 53:5

Jesus answers Pilate that He is a king, but His kingdom is not of this world. Jn. 18:36. In mockery the soldiers place a crown of thorns on His head. Mt. 27:29. They put a reed in His right hand, a symbol of authority. Mt. 27:29. They kneel before Him in derision: “Hail, King of the Jews.” Mt. 27:29. They spit on Him and taking the reed, strike Him on the head. Mt. 27:30. Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd and says “Behold the Man.” Jn. 19:5. The crowd shouts: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Jn. 19:6. Pilate asks: “Shall I crucify your King?” Jn. 19:15. They respond: “We have no king but Caesar.” Jn. 19:15. “Though He was harshly treated, He submitted, and opened not His mouth.” Is. 53:7

We also know that Jesus is forced to carry  His Cross to Calvary. Jn. 19:17. “He who does not carry his cross and follow Me, cannot be My disciple.” Lk. 14:27. “Take My yoke upon you… your souls will find rest.” Mt. 11:29. “My yoke is easy, and My burden light.” Mt. 11:30. “He who loses his life for My sake will find it.” Mt. 10:39. What we suffer now can never compare to the glory that awaits us. Rom. 8:18.

Jesus is on his way to Calvary, sentenced by Pilate to be crucified, carrying his cross down the Via Dolorosa. The Pharisees don’t want him to die along the way because they want to see him breathe his last on a cross, as proof that he was cursed by God  Deut 21:22-23

Then Simon's number is called. Simon the Cyrenean helps Jesus carry the Cross to Calvary. Lk. 23:26. Was Simon ready?  Was he reluctant? Was he willing? As  Tom Nash writes: "and, just as Jesus is in the midst of the central act of human history, there comes a passerby on his way back from the fields, a certain Simon. Was his day over? Or was he just on a lunch break? Was he hurrying home for that “solemn feast day?” Or was he even a Jew? Had he stopped for a moment to see the show, maybe get a look at the unlucky guy who would soon be suffocating under the noonday sun, the full weight of his body suspended on spikes in his arms and legs? Or did he just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when he encountered the Way of the Cross?

 On her visions, Wanda Malczewska saw Simon coming back into the city after having come to town in search of a plot of land to rent. Reluctantly forced into the job of carrying Christ’s cross, his look into Christ’s face changes him. She writes:
“Christ looked upon him, and Simon understood that gaze — he immediately understood the mystery of the cross and fell in love with the Lord Jesus. … I heard him tell the Lord Jesus: ‘Forgive me, Lord, for not having rushed … at the first demand of the Jews, for I did not know you. [But seeing you suffer] I have come to the conviction that you are God hidden in human flesh. Your gaze confirmed my convictions, penetrating me to the depths of my being. It seemed to me that I could not carry your cross, which they put upon me, but I am now carrying [it] easily, because you, Lord, accompany me. Don’t leave me. …”      “Weep not for Me, but for your children.” Lk. 23: 28. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Christ.” Gal. 6:14.The worldly person is an “enemy of the Cross of Christ.” Phil. 3:18

Then Jesus is nailed to the Cross. Lk. 23:33. He prays: “Father, forgive them…” Lk. 23:34. Jesus says to the repentant thief: “This day you will be with Me in paradise.” Lk. 23:43. Looking down at Mary His Mother, He says: “Woman, there is your son.” Jn. 19:26. Looking at the beloved disciple, He says: “There is your Mother.” Jn. 19:27. Jesus endures the terrible torture of the Cross for three hours. Mt. 27:45. Nature itself seemed in mourning, for darkness covered the earth. Mt. 27:45. “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jn. 15:13. Having completed His redeeming mission, Jesus cried out: “It is finished.” Jn. 19:30. “Father, into Your hands, I commend My spirit.” Lk. 23:46

So what happened to Simon after the death and crucifixion of Jesus? Tradition,  found in the Golden Legend says that after evangelizing in Egypt, Simon joined Jude in Persia and Armenia or Beirut, Lebanon, where both were martyred in 65 AD. He may have suffered crucifixion as the Bishop of Jerusalem. 

The Golden Legend (Latin: Legenda aurea or Legenda sanctorum) is a collection of 153 hagiographies by Jacobus de Voragine that was widely read in Europe during the Late Middle Ages. More than a thousand manuscripts of the text have survived.


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