Drawn by the roar of an excited mob, Simon stepped out from a narrow Jerusalem street into a scene of mayhem. He had traveled far from his home in Cyrene to celebrate Passover on the Temple Mount, never expecting to come upon such chaos on a Feast day.
Fists punching the air, voices yelling invectives, the crowd surged closer to the entrance of the Praetorium. Simon found himself absorbed in the seething throng, jostled and pushed until he was thrown up against the open gate.
The object of the crowd’s ridicule hardly seemed worth their fury. Surrounded by a company of Roman soldiers, a man beaten and bloodied beyond recognition struggled under the burden of a heavy beam. Simon winced at the gruesome sight of the prisoner’s back laid open by brutal flogging and his limbs purple and swollen from countless blows. He had seen condemned prisoners before but none tortured so viciously. The man’s face was a mass of open flesh where his beard had been plucked out; his brow gouged by the long, cruel thorns pressed on his head. Blood filled the hollows of his eyes, running down his chin to pool on the paving stones at his feet. Simon thought of his sons, Alexander and Rufus, relieved they were not here to witness this atrocity.
“Crucify him! Crucify him!”, screamed the mob while soldiers goaded the prisoner forward through the gate. His clothing hung in bloodied shreds, still Simon recognized remnants of the tasseled stole of a rabbi. Could this be the rabbi he had heard stories about ever since he arrived in Jerusalem? The one rumored to have healed the sick and raised the dead? Some even linked the title Messiah to his name. Surely he did not deserve this inhuman treatment.
Simon wanted to shut out the awful procession; close his eyes to the pain and blood, his ears to the labored gasps for air, his nose to the reek of sweat, but he could not. The prisoner sagged beneath the weight of the rough timber, stumbled then collapsed to his knees at Simon’s feet. Sentenced to die, he was forced to carry the beam of his own cross to the place of crucifixion but he could go no further.
Suddenly rough soldier hands grabbed Simon, shoving him toward the man on the ground, shouting at him to pick up the beam and carry it. He felt the sharp prod of a Roman spear in his side and knew he must obey or die. As he stooped to lift the blood-slick beam, the condemned man raised his head to look at him. Roaring mob, forceful soldiers, the smell of blood faded before that capturing gaze. The pain and suffering creasing the man’s brow and squinting his eyes could not diminish the absolute love blazing out. Simon’s heart suspended its beat for the length of that look, only to take it up again as a renewed heart, an alive heart touched by this almost-dead rabbi.
Hefting the rough wood across his shoulders, he felt sticky blood staining his hands but he was not repulsed. Instead, strength coursed through his limbs, enough to grip the beam with one hand, reaching down his other to help the bleeding man to his feet. The crowd parted as they moved towards Golgotha.
(based on Mark 15:21)