On Your Mark by Dr. George O. Wood
Sept. 14, 2014
A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. (Mark 15:21-24, NIV)
Multiplied thousands of pilgrims each year visit Jerusalem to trace the steps of Jesus along the Via Dolorosa (the way of grief). The 21st-century route differs considerably from that of the first century, and Catholic tradition has added a number of “stations of the cross” that cannot be found in Scripture. The essential components of this journey come from the Gospels themselves.
Matthew, Mark and Luke give us the name of Simon as the one compelled to carry the cross. He was from Cyrene, which we know to be in North Africa. Some have suggested he was African; others, that he was a Jew of the Diaspora.
Mark gives us a detail found nowhere else. It’s a rather surprising piece of information because there is so little in Mark’s account that cannot be found in the other Gospels. Mark notes that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus. Why does Mark give the names of Simon’s sons?
We do know from Early Church tradition that Mark’s Gospel was directed to the Roman believers. Years later, Paul wrote to the Romans. Near the end of his letter he expresses greetings to a number of folks — including “Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too” (16:13). Could it be that the reference to Rufus in Paul’s letter relates back to Mark’s inclusion of Rufus’ name, that Rufus ultimately relocated to Rome; and that the greeting to his mother was in recognition of her being the widow of Simon, the man who carried the cross of Christ?
If so, then the original onerous task of carrying the cross became ultimately a badge of honor belonging to Simon’s family — even as our willingness to bear the cross of Christ in our own time brings honor to those who come behind us.
Luke’s Gospel tells us that a large crowd followed Jesus and the cross-bearing Simon, including women who mourned and wailed for Him. Jesus spoke words of sorrow and warning to the women (Luke 23:27-31).
The first three Gospels note that Jesus refused the wine mixed with myrrh, a concoction designed to lessen the pain and cognition of the sufferer. Jesus chose to die clear-headed, able to express himself with words from the cross — words He could not have spoken if He allowed himself to be drugged. He wanted us to hear those words. The first sentence from the cross, recorded by Luke, stamps on us our response to injustice, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (23:34).
Finally, we note the callousness of the soldiers who begin to cast lots for Jesus’ clothes as He begins His suffering on the cross. John notes that the garments were divided four ways except for Jesus’ seamless inner garment over which they cast lots (19:23,24).
No words can adequately describe what Jesus suffered for us. Are we callous as the soldiers were, or ready to carry His cross as did Simon?
A prayer of response
DR. GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.
On Your Mark