The last journey of Jesus before his death was to walk a road we now call his Via Dolorosa—the Way of Sorrows. It was the final segment of the most important journey ever taken.
If you go to Jerusalem today you can walk the Via Dolorosa. The route passes through congested streets replete with snack stands and souvenir shops. Historians differ on the exact route Jesus took on his way to the cross, but pilgrims still find great significance in being in close proximity to his path. Each Friday afternoon a Catholic priest leads a procession that repeats the final journey of Jesus from the Praetorium of Pilate to the hill of Golgotha, site of the crucifixion.
The final road Jesus walked was one no human could survive. He knew it meant death. His body became weak as he struggled to carry the weight of his cross. The custom of the day allowed Roman soldiers to commandeer local citizens to carry excess baggage for them. On this day the soldiers interrupted the life of a bystander, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross for the condemned Jesus.
There is no question that Simon was forced to bear the cross for Christ, but I also see the situation as him being invited by God to participate in this most important mission. People were called to participate in the mission of Jesus from his birth to his death and resurrection. Such was the case for Simon. He was not a simple bystander. He walked the road. He carried the burden.
Simon could represent each one of us. We are not forced, but we are called to bear the cross of Christ. For a few minutes, the cross of Christ became Simon’s cross to bear.
There is a cost to be identified with Jesus. There is also joy in walking beside him. The joy for Simon most likely included becoming a follower of Christ. Numerous biblical scholars believe Simon became a dedicated believer, and that his sons Alexander and Rufus became leaders in the early Christian church.
The cross represents the mission of Christ. Jesus used the same metaphor to describe his mission for us when he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34 NIV). What mission does Christ have for you? What road does he have for you to walk? Just as Simon walked beside Jesus, you can rest assured that Jesus will walk beside you.