Cyrene: (n) an ancient Greek city and colony in N Africa
He was desperately trying to remain invisible.
If not invisible, at least unnoticed.
Although he had arrived in Jerusalem to be part of the Passover celebration, driven there by his deep, abiding faith, he was a black man.
Some people believed he was the offspring of Cain, the punished murderer of his brother, Abel.
Others seemed blind to his dark complexion.
It was confusing to know what to do.
Should he be apologetic for his skin color?
Bold, assuming equality? Or defiant, to scare away the bigoted and cynical?
It was constantly on his mind. Would there be more scrutiny from the religious Jews or the self-important Roman soldiers?
Beyond his will, interrupting his progress, he was swept away by a crowd moving swiftly along the Via Dolorosa, forcing him to change his direction and move with the will of the throng.
It was a procession—a death march to the crucifixion of condemned men, heading up the long hill to die. One was struggling. He was carrying his crossbeam on his back yet finding it impossible to stand under its weight.
He fell and they beat him. He stood and they beat him.
The black man had a spontaneous urge to step forward and do something. He regretted it immediately, because one of the nearby soldiers grabbed him by the arm, asking him who he was and what the hell he thought he was doing.
“I am Simon, the Cyrene, and I was just being foolish.”
The soldier pushed him toward the beaten stranger lying in the street. “Since you give a damn, why don’t you carry his fuckin’ cross?” spat the legionnaire.
At that moment, the man, who had been lying flat down in the street, rose on his haunches and turned to look at Simon. His face was grotesque, bruised and bloody, but his eyes maintained a focus. A warmth, a purpose.
Not wanting to be crucified himself, Simon chose to heed the command. He picked up the broad beam and put it on his back as the soldier helped the weakened victim to his feet.
Trying to regain his balance, the beaten-up stranger hooked his arm with Simon’s. They were linked.
Together they made the journey the rest of the way, to the “Place of The Skull.” It seemed right to all those standing around, staring at the scene, that this black man, condemned by his color, should perform such a duty for the wicked traveler on his way to death.
Simon was stilled in his confusion. He had been black all his life. He rarely left his home in Cyrene because he never knew what level of bigotry awaited him in the outside world.
He covered the distance to the top of the hill, breaking a sweat but still able to support the battered frame of the convict. Before he knew it, they lifted the beam off of him and busied themselves nailing the man to the cross.
Simon had an instinct to stand and watch, but his better sense told him that he could easily be mistaken for one of the criminals and end up slain.
He quietly left.
As he was coming down the hill, a young man, no more than twenty years of age, approached him. “Thank you for carrying the Master’s cross,” he said.
Simon nodded. The young man continued. “His name is Jesus and we believe him to be the Son of God.”
Simon smiled. He felt pity. Or was it respect to a childish dream? He didn’t know.
Matter of fact, for almost five years, he never thought about it again. He never heard the name—until one day, back in his home of Cyrene, a young preacher—an itinerant man bronzed by the heat of the sun—said the name again.
He told a story. He filled in details that Simon could not possibly have known. He burst into tears.
“What is wrong?” the messenger asked him.
Simon shook his head. “I know that man. I carried his cross. I just didn’t know that it was the cross he was carrying for me.”