There is something in our shared human experience that pushes us to leave some form of legacy. We are often not satisfied with living unknown lives and in the shadows. As much as we tell ourselves to stay ‘under the radar’ and that we should live somewhat anonymously because it is too crass to be loud and brassy, this desire comes out in various ways. The very success of the social media bears testimony to the fact that so many of us want to be seen, yearn to be noticed, and strive for some kind of fame, even if it lasts for the proverbial 15 seconds.
However, there is something to be said of those who have dedicated their lives to causes that by their very nature are unseen and unnoticed, and more importantly, something that they never chose by their own free will. These are the events that we find ourselves brought to face and accept in our lives that we would not have done so if we were given a choice. Examples of these abound. Taking care of elderly and disabled family members, caring for bed-ridden and seriously ill spouses or being parents of children born with congenital conditions that require constant care and supervision, or being married to a spouse who isn’t committed and faithful. We don’t choose these situations in life, but in a way, we are brought to them, drafted, enlisted into them and conscripted.
When we face such challenges, one of the biblical figures that we can reflect upon and draw inspiration from is Simon, a person who was present at the journey that Jesus made en route to Golgotha. Matthew, Mark and Luke mention him in their passion accounts of Jesus, they tell us where he is from – Cyrene. This man gets special mention and his name gets recorded in the annals of history for one simple act – he helped Jesus to carry his cross. Interestingly, that Jesus fell three times on the way to his place of crucifixion is not in the biblical accounts of the Passion. It is only a feature in the Catholic devotion of the Stations of the Cross. While it may not be biblical, it does not mean that there is no value in this tradition. It is only in John’s account of the crucifixion that has Jesus carrying his own cross. It is in the synoptic accounts that mention Simon being tasked to do the cross-carrying for Jesus.
For people who are carrying someone else’s burden in life, Simon is a model and exemplar. He is, after all, an innocent bystander at the drama that was being unfolded right before his eyes. The synoptic writers say he is from out of town, and we don’t know why he was there in Jerusalem at that time. But out of nowhere, the soldiers singled him out and without as much as a ceremony conscripted him into doing something difficult and challenging, as well as something that would invite stares and uncalled for remarks and judgments – to carry the ignominious cross for someone destined for a shameful public execution.
This, Simon did without protestation or debate. Oftentimes, we find ourselves bitter and resentful that we have been drafted in life to be the cross-carriers of those whom we have to look after, care for and nurse, and because of this, we may even have become the target of unfair criticism and judgment by others. What Simon did gained him a place in history. While being someone like the caddy of Jordan Spieth or Tiger Woods (in his heyday) was somewhat glamorous, bringing them into the photographs of newspapers and magazines, they will never be remembered the way Simon was. Simon had no choice, but he did it anyway, and look what it gave him. What he received in being named in Scripture gave him the kind of timeless accolade that every politician, academician and writer would die for.
While nothing else is known about Simon after the Crucifixion, contemplating on what he was made to do has great spiritual benefit for us. We become the Simons for others behind whose faces hide the image of the beaten and scourged Christ. Simon, we are told, walked quietly behind Jesus on the way to Calvary.
God could well be asking you, dear reader, to imitate Simon and walk the same way.
Fr Luke Fong is a catholic priest in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore. He blogs regularly at Reflections & Ruminations.