There has always been something about the Bible verse Mark 15:21 that has bothered me. The story goes that "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..." In my minds eye I can see this lean muscled, tall, dark skinned man moving forward to shift his weight beneath the heavy cross as Jesus lay exhausted on the ground. Perhaps their eyes met. Maybe they didn't, but it really doesn't matter because the exchange happened and Simon stepped forward struggling beneath the weight and Jesus was forced up, moving towards his death.
A quick Google search reveals that Cyrene was once located in North Africa, so it seems that this man Simon was a long way from home. Here he was passing by on his was from the country and he was picked from the crowd for this difficult task. I can only imagine how upset he was to be singled out of the crowd and forced to take the journey of an accused man. He was probably thinking: "Here I was minding my own business, why did they have to choose me?" He may have even felt that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. "Maybe I should have stayed in the country longer," he might have said to himself. Perhaps he was wondering what people would think when they saw him walking with the cross on his back. Surely they believed he was the accused!
Maybe I'm reading too much into this story, but every time I hear it I can't help but think that it was not coincidental that it was a black man that was forced to carry the cross. Could it be possible that black skinned men all over the world have been asked to carry a symbolic cross? History tells us that men of color have carried a heavy burden. Have they been selected, not as a form of punishment, but as a promise?
Later in Romans 16:13 the Bible says, "Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too." If I'm reading this correctly, Simon's wife and one of his sons was later a mother to Paul, the writer of Romans, and played an important role in Christianity. Is it possible that if these men- much like Simon-who have been asked to pick up a cross that is not theirs to bear would just shoulder the weight they will be blessed for it?
Although no one asked "will you help me carry the cross?" the request was always there. But so was the promise: If you share my pain now, I promise to take care of yours later.