And they brought him to the place called Golgotha . . . (Mark 15:22).
Once they had arrived at the place of execution – a hill called Golgotha – Simon was free to go.
He had done what the authorities demanded of him. He had been pulled from the ranks of spectators, forced to walk with a condemned man whose bloodied back could not sustain the weight of the cross on which he would die. That man needed help and Simon had been forced to give it.
A fifth century Christian document called The Gospel of Nicodemus suggests that Simon was not ordered to do the executioners felt pity for Jesus. The soldiers were simply in a hurry to get the job done, eager to put Jesus to death as quickly as possible. Simon was a convenient means of achieving this goal. Once they arrived at the site of crucifixion his usefulness to them was spent.
Once Simon arrives at Golgotha, he’s done. So what happens next?
The best answer is that we do not know. We have no idea what Simon did or where he went or what became of him because the Bible doesn’t tell us. The significance of what Simon did is evidenced by the fact that three of the four gospel writers mention him and his cross-bearing walk with Jesus. The frustration is in the lack of detail and follow up provided by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We need to be careful not to fabricate what scripture doesn’t teach us. But sometimes the open-ended stories allow room for our imaginations to explore and meditate on the biblical text.
One possibility is that Simon dropped the cross to the ground and immediately went back to his life. All he wanted to do was get out of there, leaving Jesus and the cross and the execution far behind him. In this scenario Simon, a pilgrim to Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover, rushes off to get back to his religious observances. He wants to check the religious box and pack his bags for home.
But another possibility is that somehow the encounter with Jesus and the act of carrying that cross worked a profound change in Simon. Again, we have no way of knowing if he lingered on that hill to witness the crucifixion. But perhaps the weight of the cross and the presence of the person with whom he walked never left him. Maybe Simon left that hill with a yearning to know God better and love God more. Never again would it be enough to check the religious box.
Religion v. A Jesus Life
The cross of Christ forces all of us to ask, “What happens next?”
What does the crucifixion of Jesus actually do to the way you live your life? One option is quite popular and widely practiced. Live your life with occasional religious pauses as appropriate: major holidays, weddings, attending church with your mother. Do your best to be your best.
But another option is trading a do-your-best life (with occasional religious pauses) for a Jesus life: a life a sacrificial love rooted in the mercy shown to you on the cross; a life enabled by the gift of God’s Spirit. That’s called being a Christian.
We have a few more weeks of reflections on the cross. That’s plenty of time for you to get ready to answer the question: What happens next?
When it comes to Simon of Cyrene, the answers are speculative. We’re guessing. But when it comes to your life, answering the question doesn’t involve guess work. You will answer with your life – your real-world everyday life. You can rush back to business as usual, or you can respond to God’s great love for you shown so clearly of the suffering of his son.
So what will it be. What happens next for you?
Gracious God, may the fact of Christ’s crucifixion be more than an event that we remember. Grant that it might be a reality that defines how we live, sharing with others the grace we have received through the cross, by the power of your Spirit. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.