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Luke 23 – Through the Eyes of Simon

A reflection on the story of Simon of Cyrene for Reign of Christ Sunday.

So, Simon and his family had to travel over land most likely from Cyrene in what is on the coast of modern day Libya.  Over 1100 miles by land to travel.  That is the equivalent of going from Cincinnati to Miami, Bangor Maine, Denver, or Bismarck ND.  By foot or on a animal drawn wagon.  Many people would travel overnight and navigate by the stars and then sleep/rest during the day on a journey like this.  It was cooler.  And in some ways safer, but not always.  That is the kind of commitment it took.  

I’m just going to read a few of the entires about the journey – there are a lot of them – don’t think we have time for all of them…

February 1

We – me, Anna and our two sons, Alexander and Rufus, are prepared to make the long journey.  It will be tough to leave our home in Cyrene for this long journey but we need to make the pilgrimage this year after missing it the last several years.  It is not going to be an easy journey.  If all goes well, and Lord willing we are kept safe, it will take us until late March to arrive in Jerusalem.  There’s so much that could go wrong between now and then.  There are places that we will have to pray for safety as we travel through – many stories of bandits and thieves along the road.  We know several places we can stay along the way but so many of our nights will have to be either spent outside or praying for the hospitality of strangers.  We have supplies loaded up but there is so much that concerns me.  But we must make this journey.  Our ancestors fled here to Cyrene over 300 years ago but our home is still Jerusalem.  We must join our people for the Passover celebration.  Our boys must experience this as Anna and I each did many years ago.  There is so much to hope for but there is so much that will be worrisome.  I don’t imagine I will get much sleep.  

March 1

We think we are about halfway there.  We have made good time so far with few issues but we are weary.  We are tired of traveling every day and there have been days that we didn’t have any food and yet we still needed to travel.  We can’t afford to lose many days on this journey.  Anna had to yell at Alexander because he kept annoying Rufus. “Mom, he’s on my hump of the camel!”  I am not sure they both will arrive in Jerusalem at this rate.  Anna might leave one of them behind.  

March 8 

Anna is sick.  I think she hasn’t gotten enough water so we have to stop a few days to let her rest and recover her strength.  We are blessed that the Lord has opened up the door to a home for us so we have a place to stay.  But we cannot lose many days if we want to arrive in Jerusalem before the Passover.  Praying for her to recover quickly.  

March 10

Anna is feeling better but she is still not back to full strength.  This family we are staying with has told us that Anna is welcome to stay as long as necessary.  Anna is telling me to go on with the boys and to return back this way after.  She doesn’t want to hold us up any longer.  I cannot imagine having to leave her but if she isn’t better by tomorrow…

March 12

We left last night.  It was painful to leave. The boys especially were having a very hard time leaving Anna but she insisted that we go.  And so we are off once again.  Lord, watch over Anna and over us. 

March 25

The journey has gone well these last two weeks.  We took a lot of risks and traveled for longer times to make up for the time we lost and I think we will make it in time.  Hopefully we will be able to find a place to stay.  I cannot imagine how full the city will be.  

March 26

We saw a legion of Roman soldiers traveling.  They stopped us when they saw us.  They questioned us about what we were doing, where we were going, why we were traveling on this road.  They took some of our food and one of them shoved Rufus down when he approached them.  It took everything in my power to not attack him for that.  I know if I had done that, my boys would be left without a father.  

I am exhausted. Traveling this distance…then the soldiers today…

March 28

We camped with a group of other Jews making the pilgrimage and they told us stories of what was happening in the region right now.  They told of insurrections that had taken place over the last few years and the brutality of the Romans  putting down the revolts.  I told Rufus and Alexander to go and play with the other kids because the stories that they told were  were terrifying.  Whole villages wiped out because of the actions of just a few.  God, are you still there?  Do you care at all about your people?  What about your promises to us?  

They also told stories about a man that some people are saying might be the Messiah, the one promised by God through the prophets.  They say that he is the son of a carpenter and that some say his mother became pregnant miraculously.  I am not sure about this – sounds like some tall tales to me.  But they shared of how he has healed hundreds of people, he fed over 5,000 people with just a few loaves and a few fish, and he raised people from the dead.  As unbelievable as these stories sound, I prefer them to hearing about the oppressors from Rome.  If it is true, maybe this Jesus will finally run the Romans out and the Promised Land will be ours once again.  King here

March 30

It is hard to believe but we have arrived.  We are camping outside the city walls.  The last time I was here, I was 10 but even though I have grown the walls seem like they are even higher.  But what is striking isn’t the walls or the city, it is the people.  There is a fervor and an energy here.  It is exciting but it is also scary. Everyone is in the marketplace getting everything needed for the Passover. The colors of the fabrics, the smell of the spices, we have nothing quite like this in Cyrene and the boys are overwhelmed. I am afraid I might lose one of them in the crowd.  It is also scary because people keep talking about this Jesus.  They said that he was welcomed like a king a few days ago into the city.  People were throwing their cloaks on the road and waving palm branches before him.  Some were shouting, “Jesus, son of David, Save us!!!”  I doubt the Romans were too excited about that.  I haven’t seen this Jesus yet but people keep talking about how he is around and about the city, speaking and healing.  But how can he be leading us against the Romans if he doesn’t have an army of people getting ready to revolt?  What kind of king can rule without an army?  I just don’t get it.  Someone also said that Jesus went into the temple and basically caused a riot.  He was knocking over tables and yelling against the people buying and selling there.  What kind of king goes after his own people?  Shouldn’t he be using that energy against the Romans?  

April 2

I don’t know what’s going on but getting our lamb for the sacrifice to prepare for Passover  seemed rather insignificant compared to the other events of the day.  It is late at night and there are rumors that Jesus was arrested a little while ago.  I’m not surprised considering the trouble he was stirring up all over the city this week.  Coming in like a king…getting people angry in the temple…teaching about some new kingdom.  He sounds like a trouble maker rather than a king.  The Messiah I’ve been taught about isn’t one who would be talking about peacemakers but instead one who would be reclaiming the land for its rightful people, us!  But now the city is in an uproar. Some have seen his followers trying to hide and deny that they knew him.  Some leader he must have been for his followers to desert him like that.  Also, someone even told me that one of his followers was the one who betrayed him.  Guess he’s no messiah.  

Alexander just came to me and said that he’s scared.  He said that he heard the Romans were going to do a major crack down on the city just like they did to the Gerasenes across the lake.  A boy his age told him that he knew people who were killed in that crackdown and that if we aren’t careful, the Romans will do that here. He’s really shook up.  We talked for a while and he’s gone to try to go back to sleep but I’m not sure too many of us are going to sleep at all tonight. 

Oh yeah – I almost forgot…the Passover meal.  After all that it took to get here, only to forget to write about it.  We share the Passover every year and every year we eat the same foods and tell the same stories but tonight it was different.  To be here in Jerusalem.  In the city of David.  In the land promised to our people.  To eat and share and remember…Even with everything that is going on in the city, it was a special night.  Rufus was the one who asked the first question…Why is this night different from all other nights?  I remember the first time I asked that question.  

And tonight…feels even more strange and significant.  Time to try to get some sleep.  I only wish that Anna was here as well.  I pray she is alright.  Alexander asks about her every day.  He’s worried about her.  So am I. 

April 3

I thought about trying to get out of town today because of everything going on but there’s no way we would be able to collect all the supplies we would need.  Besides the Sabbath begins at sundown and we wouldn’t be able to travel far before we’d have to stop.  I’ll just try to prepare today and tomorrow we can begin the journey back.  The city feels quieter this morning than it did a few hours ago.  

Imagine that days pass before the next entry.  For someone who writes nearly every day…something major must have happened…

April 8

We are still in Jerusalem.  I’m still just too shaken by everything that happened.  Hard to even put into words but I hope that someone reads this someday to understand it all.  We had gone out to the market to start getting food for our return trip home when we got caught up in a mob scene.  My host had told me that a shortcut to the market would be to go by the Roman headquarters, the Praetorium.  He said that it would probably be quiet that day.  He was wrong.  We got swept up in a crowd of people shouting and chanting.  I couldn’t turn around because the crowd swept around us.  I tried to grab the hands of my boys but the crowd was moving too quickly and they were pushed ahead of me.  I was shouting for them and could hear them shouting back but eventually they were too far away.  I was terrified.  What was happening?  They don’t know this city.  There’s a huge crowd.  And it isn’t like the Romans would care to help reunite a lowly Jew with his sons.  

I kept pushing ahead and looking and shouting for the boys  when I thought I was coming to a place where the crowd had thinned out. Maybe the boys were somewhere there…as I pushed past a woman who was crying hysterically, I accidentally ran right into the back of a Roman solider.  As he turned around, I looked down to see a man on his hands and knees on the dusty road.  He was trying to pick up a heavy wooden cross.  He looked like he had been brutally beaten and I could not imagine that he’d carried the cross that far.  I could see there was no way he was going to be able to pick it up again.  The Roman soldier was looking angrily at me for running into him and he said, “You there – you seem so eager and energetic – you carry Jesus’ cross!” My mind exploded! This man on his knees, beaten and struggling to carry a cross? This is the one they thought was the Messiah? 

My heart sank.  What was I to do?  My boys were lost in the city somewhere and here I had this Roman solider giving me this order.  I knew that if I said no, they would probably just kill me too and find someone else to carry the cross and then my boys would be lost for good.  But if I said did it, would I find them?  Like I had any choice in the matter.  I went to pick up the cross…what else could I do?  

Picking it up was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  It was rough and splintery.  And it was wet from Jesus’ sweat and his blood.  As I started to lift it, I thought I heard him gasp, “Thank you” but I am not sure.  And so we started to move again.  As we moved, Jesus was ahead of me and I kept thinking to myself, “this is the supposed messiah?  Him?”  Once again, any hope I once had was dashed by the power of the Romans.  I wondered if God ever listens to us?  

I dragged that cross on my shoulder for I don’t know how long until we finally reached Skull Hill.  Jesus barely reached the place.  He fell several more times, the Romans picked him up each time, gave him a few shoves and punches and told him to get moving.  And yet somehow we made it there.  And Jesus never said a word,  he silently took one step then another.  As we walked, I kept looking for my boys, praying that they were ok.  I also prayed that they didn’t see this because they would come running out to me and who knows what the soldiers would do to them if they seemed to be interrupting yet another Roman crucifixion.  

When we finally arrived at the hill, I dropped the cross and went to walk away because I still needed to find Alexander and Rufus.  But the soldiers stopped me and told me that I needed to stay and watch and learn.  So I stood there but continued to nervously look around hoping to see my boys, praying that maybe they found their way back to where we were staying.  I couldn’t help but watch what the Romans did as they stripped Jesus and put him up on that cross in between two others.  As much as I couldn’t believe that he even made it to that place, I still kept thinking to myself…some king he turned out to be.  

The soldiers nailed a sign to the top of his cross that seemed like a typical sarcastic Roman insult…”King of the Jews“ it read in several different languages.  As they started to hoist the cross up from the ground, I felt someone take my hand.  It was Rufus.  Coming up behind him was Alexander.  They looked relieved beyond words.  Rufus held my hand and Alexander stood close and they both started telling me about what happened, how they got pushed away from me and how scared they were.  They said that they reached the end of a street and looked and thought they saw me up on the hill with the soldiers. So they came to see and realized it was me.  Then they looked at me and Rufus asked why I was covered in dirt and what looked like blood.  Before I could answer, they asked why I was standing there watching.  Their questions continued breathlessly and I finally shushed them and said that I would tell them all about it later.  I continued to hold Rufus’ hand and put my other arm tight around Alexander and said that we needed to stay here until the Romans let us leave and that it would be best to be silent.  

So we stood there for what seemed like hours and hours.  At one point, as the soldiers were bargaining about who got Jesus’ clothing, I thought I heard Jesus say in a raspy voice “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  I wasn’t sure I heard that right – how could someone say such a thing at a moment like that? Forgive them?  The Romans?  Forgive them?  Those who denied him?  Forgive them?  Those who betrayed him?  Forgive them?  Those who called for his death?  Forgive?  What kind of king would even talk of forgiveness?  The only kings I know are those who think they are on par with god and wouldn’t need to offer forgiveness to anyone.  What kind of king is this I wondered?

It felt like time had stopped but there we stood silently.  All we heard was the raspy breaths of the three on the crosses, the sounds of pain and anguish, the cries of grief from their family and friends gathered nearby, and then some who passed by who couldn’t help but shout insults at Jesus saying that if he really was the messiah then he could save himself like he had saved others.   Wasn’t Jesus suffering enough?  Friends betraying and denying, beaten, humiliated, and now dying in the worst way imaginable.  I couldn’t help but feel for what he was going through. It was gruesome to watch. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want my boys there, but I was afraid to leave. 

Then, the man on Jesus’ left somehow pulled himself up enough to shout in the most hateful tone at Jesus, “Are you not the messiah?  Save yourself and us!”  I could see Jesus shudder a bit at those words but then the man on the other side of Jesus responded that they were getting what they deserved but that Jesus hadn’t done anything wrong and that he was innocent.  How he managed to even get those words out I don’t even know.  

But then, almost as if a power had come upon Jesus that no one could see, it was like he found the strength to pull himself up to say in the most powerful way possible at that moment, words that I couldn’t help but believe with every fiber of my being. Even on the cross, in that moment He had a regal quality and all who heard Him knew that he had power beyond anything the Romans or any other opponents could stir up.  I have never witnessed anything like that moment. He simply said to that man, “I tell you the truth.  Today you will be with me in paradise.”

I know my boys felt it too because I felt a jolt of strength move through them.  Something had changed at that moment. Jesus spoke words of power and truth. The absolute truth. He spoke as a King like one we’ve never seen, even in that place of death.  Something in the people gathered.  Something in me.  The soldiers who had been mocking Jesus suddenly stood silent.  The people crying beneath the cross suddenly were stilled.  This same sense of silent awe and reverence continued even as a darkness covered the sky and suddenly we heard Jesus cry out and then his whole body slumped.  The King had died.  

No one can convince me otherwise but I am sure I heard one of the soldiers say something of recognizing God in that moment and that an innocent man died on that cross.  The soldiers just walked away and we knew that we could finally go too.  As we walked away I felt a deep heartache and I knew something was forever different in the world. 

After that I couldn’t help but think about Jesus.  Rufus and Alexander keep asking about him and about what he did and why he was killed. They asked if the same thing would happen to me. I didn’t know how to answer all of their questions, I could barely understand everything myself. I just held my boys and we wept and prayed. We had seen things too horrible to recount.  Where are you God? 

April 12

Last thing I need to share.  We were two days journey from Jerusalem and I knew we needed to leave. The boys were still deeply disturbed by the events they witnessed and I knew it was still dangerous. I tried to keep them focused on seeing their mother again. I was anxious to see how Anna’s health was.  

But the most amazing news just came to us.  Two people ran up to me and said, “You were the one who carried his cross!”  I wasn’t sure how to respond – I couldn’t tell if they were angry or excited or what.  I cautiously said that I was the one, and they shouted, “He’s alive!”  They kept talking about how several women of their group had gone to the tomb several days later only to find the stone rolled away and they couldn’t find the body and then Jesus appeared to them and to the rest who had followed him.  They said that he was as real as we were standing there at that moment.  They excitedly said, “Tell everyone about it!  Tell everyone that the king lives!  The savior lives!”  

I don’t know how I am going to explain all of this to Anna.  How could she possibly believe this story?  But I could feel that it is true.  My boys rejoiced and the shock and horror was replaced by dancing and laughter. I was relieved to see the death and grief leave their eyes at this news.

This King is not the king I had pinned my hopes on. I still don’t understand what God is doing, but I have seen and felt the transformation in my sons and in myself- from death and grief to love and forgiveness and hope.  The King I expected would have brought more death and more cycles of violence. Maybe this IS the King we need after all.  I can’t wait to tell this story to Anna. The boys are telling it to everyone they meet. It is strangely, such good news.  


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