Monday of Holy Week, March 26. Holy week gives us space to fully enter Jesus’ Passion in preparation to joyfully celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday.
PREPARE TO LISTEN. After your silence, pray: For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. (Psalm 36:9)
READ: Mark 15:21-24 Station 5: Golgotha. “And they crucified him”
21They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
I was struck by the detail in this passage concerning seemingly irrelevant things in contrast with the lack of detail about the one thing that is the most relevant: “And they crucified him.”
Mark, as we’ve discovered, never wastes words, so the detail is there for a reason. The first detail has to do with the man compelled to carry Jesus’ cross. We’re given his name, town and son’s names. Is there perhaps a little irony here on Mark’s part? ‘Simon’ was the name of first disciple Jesus called (1:16); a disciple who failed ‘to carry his cross’ as Jesus commanded (8:34) and so denied him. A different ‘Simon’ is now forced to carry Jesus’ cross. The fact that Mark includes the name of his sons is interesting. They’re unknown outside of this verse in Mark. It is very possible that Alexander and Rufus were well-known members of the community to whom Mark wrote this Gospel and thus would be able to confirm for them Mark’s account about their father carrying Jesus’ cross. Their names are Greek, not Jewish. However, their father’s name is very Jewish. We can only speculate about Simon’s origin. Was he a Jew living in a very Greek community, and not in Palestine? Was he African? Mark remains silent. All we know is that, as Jesus went alone to the cross, it was an alien stranger (he wasn’t a resident of Jerusalem nor a known follower of Jesus) who was forced to walk with him, taking the place one of his disciples should have taken. But disciples had all deserted and fled.
Return to the most relevant phrase in these verses. For the second time, Mark includes an important phrase in a seemingly matter-of-fact way and without any elaboration: “And they crucified him.” Most of Mark’s first readers would know what that entailed. They wouldn’t need a detailed explanation. They’d seen too many crucifixions. This isn’t true for readers in the 21st century. We need to reflect more and experience the horror of this simple, unadorned phrase. But, and this is what strikes, even shocks me, Mark doesn’t pause to let us reflect. He immediately describes, in some detail, the soldiers casting lots and dividing up Jesus’ clothing between them. In other words, we’re left wondering, not about Jesus being crucified, but about the indifference and callousness of the soldiers at the foot of the cross. A man is suffering indescribable pain and all they do is divvy up his clothing. As the Psalmist wrote, “they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots” (Ps 22:18). Meanwhile, Jesus is passively in the background, almost forgotten, saying and doing nothing, hanging on a cross.
Reflect on the roles of Simon of Cyrene and the soldiers. Simon was forced to carry the cross; the soldiers are so used to crucifixion they feel nothing. Where are you in this scene? Notice your emotions and thoughts and name them. Would you have volunteered to carry the cross for Jesus?
RESPOND TO JESUS IN PRAYER
Lord Jesus, help me see more clearly and feel more dearly what you went through in order to restore God’s world to its original goodness. Amen.
GO AND LIVE IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST who suffered in silence for the redemption of the world.