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Readings

Reading: Matthew 27:32-44

Supplementary Reading: Matthew 5:38-42

Devotional

In the lead up to and during the second world war the Nazis subjected millions of people to forced labour. These ‘enemies of the state’ included, of course, Jews but also many other groups deemed as ‘sub-human’ by the Nazis including, Poles and captured Soviet soldiers. These ‘prisoners’ were exploited for economic gain and to meet desperate labour deficiencies. Even before the outbreak of war by the end of 1937, most Jewish males living in Germany had been conscripted to perform forced labour for assorted government organisations. In watching old grainy documentary footage or Hollywood’s latest depiction of the atrocities on the big screen, we recoil in horror at the brutality caused by one human on another by forced labour.

As we move towards Golgotha and execution by the gruesome and finely-honed craft of crucifixion, our eyes are pulled inextricably to the person and work of the creator on a cross for his creation. However, as we journey with Matthew in our reading today he takes time, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to point toward five additional people or groups in his narrative. He includes legionnaires, Passers-by, Scribes, robbers, and the witness we will examine today, Simon from Cyrene.

Jesus, common with all condemned to die by crucifixion, faced the sadistic requirement of carrying their own cross to the place of execution. This could not take place within the city walls so, Jesus set out on his way to a mound outside named Golgotha. Tradition has it he followed the ‘sorrowful way’ also known as the ‘Via Dolorosa’, but we cannot be certain. What is certain is Jesus, unsurprisingly, collapsed under the weight of His cross unable to continue. This is where Simon of Cyrene enters our story.

This Friday, Simon was returning to the city from the countryside, it isn’t crystal clear from scripture why, but as there was a large Jewish community in Cyrene it is quite likely he was visiting Jerusalem to celebrate the festival. Likewise, we find Jews from Cyrene, mentioned by Dr Luke, as visiting the holy city on Pentecost. (Acts 2:10). Matthew records Simon being ‘compelled’ under the law into forced labour. He was forced by the accompanying legionnaires to pick up Jesus’s cross and carry it to Golgotha. The Greek word ‘angareuō’ used by Matthew, translated ‘compelled’ is only used one other time in his Gospel, when it is spoken by Jesus in his ‘sermon on the mount’. Fascinatingly, Jesus said; ‘And if anyone ‘compels’ you to go one mile, go with him two miles.’ (Matthew 5:41)

It is no surprise Simon’s help was needed. The last 15 hours had taken a catastrophic toll on Jesus’ mind and body. He suffered betrayal, sweat blood in Gethsemane, was abandoned by his friends, mocked, tortured, endured a false trial, scourged, abused and sentenced to death in the most agonising of ways known to man.

Reluctantly Simon picks up the cross, of a man he did not know, carries it out of the city gates and arrives at Calvary. We don’t know Simon’s whole story but we do know Simon and his family become Christians, forming part of the house churches in Rome. Something he witnessed that day, possibly the words Jesus spoke or the grace shown towards a dying thief, we can’t be sure, but we know his life changed forever.

Mark writing his account of Jesus life to the believers in Rome develops his mention of Simon saying; ‘And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.’Mark 15:21. It is almost as if Mark is saying, you know this family and they are part of your church. Later in his letter to the believers in Rome Paul says; ‘Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.’Romans 16:13.

This moment of forced labour for Simon had far reaching effects becoming a blessing for him, his wife, his two sons and astonishingly the Apostle Paul to whom, Simon’s amazing wife, had been like a mum! Let us, as Jesus encourages, be wide open to being ‘compelled’ you just don’t know where it will take you.

Prayer

Father God, I am thankful that you know the beginning and the end. You make everything beautiful in your time. I am grateful you were at work in my life even before I was aware of you. Thank you for stepping into my life in the same unexpected way you did for Simon. Help me in emulating Simon to share your story with those I love and are treasured by me to see your kingdom come in this world. Amen!

Based on today's reading, what is one thing God is saying to you?

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