Matthew 27:32 states….As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross while Mark 15:21 tells us…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.
Simon is forced to carry Jesus’ cross at the point just after Jesus has been beaten and flogged by the Roman guards. Simon helps to carry the cross as Jesus is on his way to be crucified.
So, just who is Simon? Reading the Scripture we discover he’s a man, he’s from Cyrene, he was force to carry the cross, he had two sons named Alexander and Rufus, and he just happened to be passing by on his way back to Jerusalem from the country.
Cyrene could make reference to to Cyrene, Libya in northern Africa. Does this mean Simon was a black man? It’s been debated for hundreds of years. One fact that does remain certain is Cyrene was also the name of a section of Jerusalem. A section where thousands of Palestinian Jews had settled during the reign of Ptolemy Soter (323-285 BC).
Some support the argument that Simon was black by arguing that the Roman guards had a dilemma on their hands. They could not carry the cross. That certainly makes sense, doesn’t it? The whole point was to have the person being crucified carry the cross.
Some even argue that the Romans wouldn’t have asked a Jew to carry the cross because it was Passover and simply by carrying the cross he would be defiled and would be unable to participate in Passover. You might ask why the Romans would even care, but they had orders not to interfere with the religious practices of the Jews. If this holds true then Simon could have been a black man….a non-Jew.
The mention of Simon’s sons, Rufus and Alexander, have also caused debate. Many ancient sources claim the two became missionaries. Some even went so far as to include the name Mark to imply Rufus was mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:13…Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Simon has also been linked to the “men of Cyrene” mentioned in Acts 11:20…Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.
While it can be entertaining to argue the point regarding Simon of Cyrene’s ethnicity… does it really matter?
I find the back and forth interesting, but it doesn’t matter either way to me. I prefer to look upon the fact that someone picked up Jesus’ cross and carried it for him to remind me that today I should be about my Father’s business….it’s up to me in 2009 to continue to spread the word and become more Christ-like.