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Simon of Cyrene

Simon of Cyrene carries the cross, Church of the Holy Trinity in Gemunden am Main, Bavaria, Germany.


He never spoke a word to me,   
And yet He called my name;
He never gave a sign to me,   
And yet I knew and came.

At first I said, "I will not bear   
His cross upon my back;
He only seeks to place it there   
Because my skin is black."

But He was dying for a dream,   
And He was very meek,
And in His eyes there shone a gleam   
Men journey far to seek.

It was Himself my pity bought;   
I did for Christ alone
What all of Rome could not have wrought   
With bruise of lash or stone.

         Simon the Cyrenian Speaks, Countee Cullen (1903-1946)


Simon of Cyrene is mentioned in three of the four Gospels, appearing when Jesus stumbles while carrying the cross on the way to his crucifixion. Part of the penalty was to carry the means of their execution, and the Romans and Judeans in the crowd were highly unlikely to help a condemned man carry his cross. So, Simon of Cyrene is pulled from the crowd and made to carry it in Jesus’ stead.

 

Cyrene is an ancient city of Libya on the coast in Northern Africa, and as such, there are many people that believe Simon to be a Black African, pulled from the crowd as an obvious foreigner. The Gospels are not specific on the matter of his race, and there was a population of Greek speaking Jews in Cyrene. Simon could have been one of them, or he could have been one of the Black Africans that was converted to Judaism, making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover.

 

Despite his ‘bit part’, many Black people in the faith see themselves in Simon’s circumstances. As Rev. Henry Masters has said, “Black men, in particular, get caught in circumstances they didn’t create but have to deal with. That’s Simon.” The poem above by Countee Cullen echoes similar sentiments, as well as other Black theologians. It’s a truly an interesting and relevant perspective to consider, expanded upon in Master’s book “Simon of Cyrene” or “Reading While Black” by Esau McCaulley where he refers to Simon as a Black presence since the beginning of Christianity.

 

Truly, we can say very little for certain about Simon, given how little is said about him in the Gospels.

 

Mark 15.21 says: “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. (CEB)”

 

Matthew 27.32 says: “As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. (CEB)”

 

And Luke 23.26 says: “As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. (CEB)”

 

There’s a chance that the sons, mentioned in Mark’s Gospel, are later mentioned by Paul (Romans 16.13) and it’s entirely possible the father and sons had something to do with the “people from Cyrene” that were present during Pentecost in Acts 2. It’s very likely they became disciples after their experience at the crucifixion, where Simon was the only person to offer compassion to a suffering Jesus.




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