The Meaning of a Man from Libya

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.

Luke 23:26

Libya has been in the news recently, with the overthrow and death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who ruled the nation for over four decades. But, surprisingly enough, a man from Libya also plays a small but significant role in the narrative of Jesus’ crucifixion.

We don’t know much about a man named Simon, other than that he was from Cyrene, that he had come to Jerusalem from the countryside, and that he was forced by Roman soldiers to carry the cross of Jesus (or, more accurately, the cross beam). (The Gospel of Mark mentions Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus, 15:26). Cyrene was a seaport city in northern Africa, in a region that is now part of Libya. It’s most likely that Simon journeyed from there to Jerusalem as a pilgrim, in order to participate in the Passover. Given the overwhelming number of pilgrims in Jerusalem for the holiday, it’s also likely that Simon was staying somewhere out in the countryside. When he came into the city, he was drafted into service by the Roman soldiers, who forced him to help Jesus get his cross to Golgotha.

Christians have seen in Simon two different sorts of meaning. Some have conjectured that Simon was a person of color, since he was from Africa. He represents the millions of Christians whose skin is dark. There’s nothing wrong with this representation, though we can’t be sure of Simon’s ethnicity. He might well have been a Jew living in Cyrene, where there was a substantial Jewish community.

Many Christians have also seen Simon as an epitome of the Christian life. Even as we are all to take up the cross of Jesus and follow him, Simon did this literally. Commentators have wondered if Matthew, Mark, and Luke told Simon’s story because he provides a place for us in the narrative. The fact that Mark mentions Simon’s sons suggests that Simon and his family did, indeed, become followers of Jesus.

This is possible. But we must remember that Jesus called us to take up, not his cross, but our own cross. We are not expected to imitate him by dying for the sin of the world. Rather, we are to
follow him in the way of servanthood, even suffering. We are to give our lives away for God’s purposes. Simon, the man from Libya, offers a stirring picture of how we are to live, carrying our cross and following after Jesus.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you think Simon felt when commanded to carry the cross of Jesus? What does it mean for you to carry your cross?

PRAYER: Gracious God, how I thank you for this cameo appearance of Simon. Though we know little about him, we do know that he was deeply faithful to you, for he made the arduous trip from Cyrene to Jerusalem in order to observe the Passover. Like me, but in a much more literal way, Simon was called to follow Jesus, even to carry his cross. Thus, he reminds me of how I am to live each day.

Help me, Lord, to carry my cross today. May I choose the way of service and sacrifice. May I think, not of myself, but of others, and most of all of you. May I do this no matter where I am, at work and at home, in the mall or driving in my car. May I live my life fully for you today. Amen.

P.S. Photos from Jerusalem of the Chapel of Simon the Cyrene: Last summer, my family and I walked the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. The fifth station is dedicated to the memory of Simon of Cyrene, where there is a small chapel in his name. If you’d like to see this chapel, along with a couple other “local color” photos, visit this page of my blog.

P.P.S. from Mark on Advent: The season of Advent is upon us. I believe that participating in Advent can help us celebrate Christmas more joyously and know God more intimately. I have just published a new e-book that will help you understand and engage in Advent. It's called: Discovering Advent: How to Experience the Power of Waiting on God at Christmastime. It includes an Advent Devotional Guide for personal, family, or group worship. This e-book is currently available for Kindle and Nook readers. Click here for more information or to purchase Discovering Advent.