26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” 31For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’
32 Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[ 34Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ 38There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ 40But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
After the flogging, after Pilate condemned Jesus, they took him from the Antonia Fortress – which had been built by Rome adjacent to, and taller than, the temple – to the place called “The Skull”. Today, we call a path through the Old City of Jerusalem, loosely following that route, the Via Dolorosa, the “Way of Sorrows”. When we went to the Holy Land, we walked this path, stopping at special places, “stations of the cross” along the way. The first of these was the place where Simon of Cyrene was recruited to help him carry the cross. It was not, as we picture, the entire cross that a man had to carry for his own crucifixion, but the cross-beam. The upright would have already been at the site. Jesus, severely weakened by the flogging and loss of blood, was unable to carry the heavy cross-beam, and so the soldiers conscripted this man, Simon, who was just coming in from the country, and made him carry the cross-beam. What do you suppose Simon thought and felt that day?
Here is how I can imagine it could have gone with Simon. He was coming in from the country, perhaps with farm goods to sell in the market, anticipating a good profit, for the city was crowded on this Passover week! People would need his dates and pomegranates! He would have stopped, for the Roman soldiers were driving men through with their crosses. A tall man, looking over the heads of others, he would have seen the man stumble; his heart would have broken as he wondered what this man with the kind eyes could have done to insult Rome, to be killed? And then, suddenly, he would have realized the soldier was shouting at him, “You, there, the tall one, you come and carry this cross! We haven’t got all day!” And so, he would have shouldered the weight, and looking into the man’s eyes, he would have been glad to do so, not for Rome, but for the man who seemed to care for him even through his own pain and suffering. It was as if this man were suffering for him – but how could that be? We never hear again of this man, Simon, but Mark says he was the father of Rufus and Alexander. Likely, these men were known to Mark’s audience, since they are named.
At another station along the way, Jesus spoke to the women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. He said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.” He goes on to repeat the prophecy he had spoken earlier beside the temple, of the fall of Jerusalem. In that day, they would have plenty to weep for.
We will continue with this passage, for there is not space or time enough to bring it to a close today! I am attaching photos from the Via Dolorosa.