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They Seized On A Man, Simon From Cyrene

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Palm Sunday: 4 April 2004
“They Seized On A Man, Simon From Cyrene”
Rev. Philip R. Taylor
Luke 23:1-43

1The whole assembly then rose, and they brought him before Pilate. 2They began their accusation by saying, ‘We found this man inciting our people to revolt, opposing payment of the tribute to Caesar, and claiming to be Christ, a king.’ 3Pilate put to him this question, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ He replied, ‘It is you who say it.’ 4Pilate then said to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no case against this man.’ 5But they persisted, ‘He is inflaming the people with his teaching all over Judaea and all the way from Galilee, where he started, down to here.' 6When Pilate heard this, he asked if the man were a Galilean; 7and finding that he came under Herod’s jurisdiction, he passed him over to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

8Herod was delighted to see Jesus; he had heard about him and had been wanting for a long time to set eyes on him; moreover, he was hoping to see some miracle worked by him. 9So he questioned him at some length, but without getting any reply. 10Meanwhile the chief priests and the scribes were there, vigorously pressing their accusations. 11Then Herod, together with his guards, treated him with contempt and made fun of him; he put a rich cloak on him and sent him back to Pilate. 12And though Herod and Pilate had been enemies before, they were reconciled that same day.

13Pilate then summoned the chief priests and the leading men and the people. 14He said to them, ‘You brought this man before me as a popular agitator. Now I have gone into the matter myself in your presence and found no grounds in the man for any of the charges you bring against him. 15Nor has Herod either, since he has sent him back to us. As you can see, the man has done nothing that deserves death, 16so I shall have him flogged and then let him go.’ [17 - Some authorities add v. 17, borrowed from Mt 27:15.] 18But as one man they howled, ‘Away with him! Give us Barabbas! 19(This man had been thrown into prison because of a riot in the city and murder.)

20In his desire to set Jesus free, Pilate addressed them again, 21but they shouted back, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ 22And for the third time he spoke to them, ‘But what harm has this man done? I have found no case against him that deserves death, so I shall have him flogged and then let him go.’ 23But they kept on shouting at the top of their voices, demanding that he should be crucified. And their shouts kept growing louder. 24Pilate then gave his verdict: their demand was to be granted. 25He released the man they asked for, who had been imprisoned because of rioting and murder, and handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they pleased.

26As they were leading him away they seized on a man, Simon from Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and made him shoulder the cross and carry it behind Jesus. 27Large numbers of people followed him, and women too, who mourned and lamented for him. 28But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep rather for yourselves and for your children. 29For look, the days are surely coming when people will say, “Blessed are those who are barren, the wombs that have never borne children, the breasts that have never suckled! ” 30Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”; to the hills, “Cover us!” 31For if this is what is done to green wood, what will be done when the wood is dry?’

32Now they were also leading out two others, criminals, to be executed with him. 33When they reached the place called The Skull, there they crucified him and the two criminals, one on his right, the other on his left. 34Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.’ Then they cast lots to share out his clothing.

35The people stayed there watching. As for the leaders, they jeered at him with the words, ‘He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ 36The soldiers mocked him too, coming up to him, offering him vinegar, 37and saying, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ 38Above him there was an inscription: ‘This is the King of the Jews’. 39One of the criminals hanging there abused him: ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us as well.’ 40But the other spoke up and rebuked him. ‘Have you no fear of God at all?’ he said. ‘You got the same sentence as he did, 41but in our case we deserved it: we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43He answered him, ‘In truth I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’ [The New Jerusalem Bible. 1995, c1985.]

Many churches will have a dramatic reading of the Passion Gospel on Palm/Passion Sunday and this will in some cases replace the traditional sermon. All the speaking parts as well as a narrator of the dramatic reading will be dutifully chosen and rehearsed. It will certainly not rival the latest movie, The Passion. It will serve however to remind all in attendance of the suffering of Our Lord and our complicity in that event. For many who will participate and hear the dramatic reading of the Passion Gospel, it will be an ‘anamnesis moment’. It will be a time to remember an important and crucial event from the past, to bring that event into the present, thereby changing the present and hopefully changing the future.

In recent years as I have read and meditated on these readings for Palm Sunday, I have been intrigued with what occurs in verse 26 from this years’ reading from Luke. Mark and Matthew also record this event in their accounts.

As they were leading him away they seized on a man, Simon from Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and made him shoulder the cross and carry it behind Jesus.

Why would the three synoptic Gospel writers include this rather odd incident in their accounts of Our Lord’s passion? We can only guess but the event certainly carried enough weight to be included in three of the four Gospels. My own interpretation is that even the Son of God couldn’t get to His own execution by Himself. He needed help, even the help of a stranger plucked from the crowd. This scene has helped me understand that I too will need help in my journey. I will not be able to get even a few hundred yards down the road without the help of others.

I want to ask myself during this Holy Week, “Whom, from the crowd, will God call to humble me and help me carry the burdens of this life?” My guess is that whoever that person will be, it will surprise me. No doubt those who were there 2000 years ago were surprised when a black African, Simon of Cyrene, was seized from the crowd and made to shoulder the cross and carry it behind Jesus.

A Prayer for Holy Week
Lord, keep me humble in the presence of your love. Help me understand my dependence on You and those You send to help me and love me. Keep me ready, willing, and able to be seized from the crowd to love and help another in their journey. I make this prayer in the blessed name of Jesus. Amen.

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