john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK



    Walking with Simon of Cyrene

    St Mary West Derby, Lent 5 Eucharist 31/3/2009


    Matthew 27.32, Mark 15.21, Luke 23.26


    Have you ever been on a walk of devotion - a pilgrimage, perhaps, to a special place, a Good Friday procession?

    Or have you ever found yourself walking a new way accidentally, being made to change the route of your journey by the force of a crowd cutting across your path, being overtaken by events on the street?

    Have you ever taken a walk out of curiosity, to have a look at something which everyone was talking about that day, everyone else was looking at, to go and see it for yourself?

    Or have you ever taken a walk confrontationally: been on a protest march, or joined the crowd following the accused as they made their way towards the entrance to court?

    If you've ever walked in any of these ways then the chances are you'll have some affinity with Simon of Cyrene.

    We don't know precisely why he was walking that way on that fateful day.

    He may have been walking beside Jesus devoutly;

    He may have been walking beside Jesus accidentally;

    He may have been walking beside Jesus out of curiosity;

    He may have been walking beside Jesus confrontationally:

    We do know that they compelled the man Simon to carry Christ's cross.


    He may have been walking beside Jesus devoutly, Simon, a man who was in Jerusalem to keep a religious feast.

    Cyrene was a Jewish community in northern Africa, [now Libya] settled by Palestinian Jews 300 years BC. They had a synagogue in Jerusalem, where many went for annual feasts.

    We might imagine Simon as one of these devout Jews, caught up in that week's big excitement stirred up by Jesus and his message of messianic love. Was this man speaking God's truth, the devout Simon would have wanted to know, or is he an imposter, an infidel?

    The authorities have condemned Jesus to death, so the only chance I have to see him now is on the road to the place of execution.

    Simon may have been walking beside Jesus devoutly, awed by the events unfolding all around him, intent to get a closer look at the condemned man's face, to get a glimpse into the condemned man's eyes, to see what was there: was it the look of a liar getting his just desserts, or was it a glimpse of the divine, cruelly, unduly sentenced to die?

    And when you walk beside Jesus, what do you see when you look into his face?


    He may have been walking beside Jesus accidentally, Simon, a man on the road to somewhere else finding himself unexpectedly at the heart of an extraordinary scene.

    Perhaps he was just out running an errand for his young wife, who was at home with the babies Alexander and Rufus, sending Simon out shopping for provisions for that night's meal.

    Turning a corner onto the main thoroughfare he found himself swept up into a crowd, not knowing who they were, why they were mobbing together there. Only as he pushed through towards the centre of the road in search of an escape route did he realise he was in the middle of a march to the place of crucifixion.

    Simon may have been walking beside Jesus accidentally, finding himself spiralled toward the centre of a mob baying for a man's blood. When he found himself shoved up alongside Jesus, how did he view him: as a body drenched with sweat and blood and close to collapse, to be hated and avoided, or as one whose suffering brought feelings of sympathy to Simon's breast?

    And when you walk beside Jesus, how do you view his suffering?


    He may have been walking beside Jesus out of curiosity, Simon, one of the crowd who'd heard the news that day: there was to be an execution and the man to be executed was a special kind of criminal: a heretic, an insurgent, an enemy of the state.

    What does such a man look like, Simon might have wondered, and what will he have to say to the crowds on the way?

    How would such a man respond to his punishment, Simon might have wondered, and how will the crowds react to him? How will his followers respond? Will there be trouble?

    With a sense of occasion, a sense of being in a place and at a time where history was being made, a feeling that this could be a special day, a life changing journey, Simon may have walked beside Jesus with his head full of such questions.

    And when you walk beside Jesus, is your mind full of questions about his significance?


    He may have been walking beside Jesus confrontationally, Simon, convinced of the man's guilt, possessed with the need to be rid of him and his kind.

    This would have been out of devotion too - a devotion to the established religion whose roots Jesus shook. This would have been out of a sense of justice - kill the troublemaker to keep law and order as it is.

    Possessed by his own righteousness and that of the state, Simon may have walked beside Jesus pointing accusingly, shouting him down. Denying the prisoner his message of liberation for all, decrying the way that Jesus had relegated the law beneath his gospel of love.

    And when you walk beside Jesus, are you for his liberating message or is your heart hardened against his gospel of love?

    He may have been walking beside Jesus devoutly;

    He may have been walking beside Jesus accidentally;

    He may have been walking beside Jesus out of curiosity;

    He may have been walking beside Jesus confrontationally:

    We do know that they compelled the man Simon to carry Christ's cross.

    We don't know if Simon really meant to take the same journey as Jesus on that fateful day, but he walked it.

    We don't know if Simon saw Jesus' suffering sympathetically, but he saw it.

    We don't know if Simon took Jesus' burden willingly, but he took it.

    That you are here this evening demonstrates a profound truth about you: that events in your life have conspired that you walk the way of Jesus too.

    How do you walk with Jesus: devoutly; accidentally; out of curiosity; confrontationally?

    What do you see in his eyes? How do you view his suffering? Are you curious about his significance? Do you recoil from his revolutionary message?

    And if you were compelled to carry his cross - what would that mean to you?