I was thinking about the Simon of Cyrene incident in Mk 15:21. Jesus' having been psychologically interrogated, physically beaten including 40 lashes with a leather whip laced with broken pottery and other destructive broken objects, beaten with sticks, a crown of thorns pushed on his head and not having slept for a night is told to carry his cross to Calvary. Yet no sooner than they set out on the journey, the soldiers grab some poor passer by en-route to Jerusalem and tell him to carry Jesus' cross. The text does not tell us why they conscripted Simon. Perhaps Jesus was exhausted. Perhaps he was moving too slow and they had a timetable to keep. Perhaps they just felt like it. Perhaps Simon said something to them about the cruelty of what they were doing? Who knows.
The irony lies in linking this verse to Mk 8:34 where Jesus told his disciples that if they wanted to be a follower of Christ they must take up their cross and follow him; what strikes me, is that Jesus did not actually carry his cross. Simon carried it for him. It could be that the metaphor of carrying the cross for us as disciple transcends the actual carrying and it refers to being prepared to go to our deaths on his behalf as he went to his death on ours. I am sure this is the case. However, it is still interesting that Jesus went to his death with someone else helping to bear his burden. This makes me think that one of the lessons of this intertextual link is that we can't bear our crosses alone. When we try we stumble and fall. We need each other.
Paul said, 'bear one another's burdens' (Gal 6:2) and perhaps this is what he had in mind. That we are to take up our crosses together and help each other as we walk our individual roads in pursuit of Jesus. We actually walk together, the narrow path of suffering and struggle, and we have to go together. One of the greatest dangers to us western Christians is that we overstate the individual and try to do it alone. If we do, we will not make it! Christianity, to use a metaphor, is a team sport. We must work together.
So, this Christmas, take up your cross and follow. And when needed, take up each others crosses.
Ah yes, and there is another potential textual link to Rom 16:13 where Paul mentions a Rufus in Rome. Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus; is this the same Rufus, considering that Mark was probably written from Rome a few years after Romans.
Who knows? But take up your cross anyway!