This week, I was scheduled to gather with my ecumenical brothers and sisters and preach about Simon of Cyrene. I had initially been very excited about the assignment. During Lent, we were all assigned people to preach about who are associated with the Stations of the Cross, and Simon has always fascinated me. But it was not until I started preparing to preach that I realized why I had found his story so intriguing. After having looked and looked, each of the synoptic gospels gives Simon of Cyrene one verse of text. One verse. That is all. We have this dramatic event that occurs as Jesus struggles to carry his cross, so dramatic that a whole station of the cross is dedicated to him. And yet, everything we know about him is encapsulated in one verse.
Now, we do know some details. He is from Cyrene, which means he was likely in Jerusalem on a trip there for religious devotion. We know he is a father. And we know he did not volunteer or chose to help Jesus. He was made to help Jesus. That is all we know. Anything else we want to know – whether he connected with Jesus powerfully in that moment; whether he helped Jesus begrudgingly, out of fear, or with compassion; whether his life was changed by the moment or he never thought of the moment again. We simply do not know.
Instead, what we really learn about in this moment is not about the psyche or spiritual development of Simon. Instead, what we really learn about is Jesus. This past Sunday, I talked in my homily about how what is most powerful about the story of Jesus and the woman at the well is not the scandalous, but the ordinariness of Jesus – the fleshiness of the incarnation. That is what I think Simon does for us in this one verse. Simon reminds us of how very human Jesus was – so physically exhausted, he needed help. So very abandoned, his own loved ones or disciples did not step forward to help him. So very humiliated, a stranger was forced to see his humiliation up close.
As we are in the midst of a pandemic that affects the body, I am feeling very grateful this week of the reminders of Jesus’ fleshiness on this earth. I am reminded that no matter how alone we feel, no matter how exhausted we are, no matter how much we hate to ask for help (especially from a stranger), our neediness right now is akin to the experiences Jesus had in his life. In essence, Christ is in our suffering because he suffered too. Of course, that does not solve this virus or change our reality much. But I am deeply comforted knowing that Jesus is standing with us as we work our way through this virus. I hope you can feel that same hope too.