26 When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus.
The condemned were supposed to carry their own cross. A cross could weigh up to 300 lbs. But if posts were affixed nearby, sometimes the condemned would only carry a cross beam up that weighed up to 100 lbs.
Luke doesn’t describe the other beatings and the scourging that the other gospel writers do. He uniquely mentioned blood loss in the Garden of Gethsemane. The effect is that Christ is hardly in condition to carry even 100 lbs. through Jerusalem out to Golgotha.
The Romans were practical. They wouldn’t let a small thing like that stop them. And they weren’t going to carry it themselves. So they grabbed a man from the crowd: Simon of Cyrene. Cyrene was had been a Greek colony in modern day Libya. Eventually, a Jewish minority rose in the city. When the Romans took over, it became one of their provinces.
Simon was likely a member of the Jewish community in Cyrene who had come up to Jerusalem with his family to celebrate the Passover. It was a special occasion, a holy occasion, now he had been dragged away from his family by soldiers to help them kill a criminal. Given that his name is recorded in the gospels as well as the names of his sons, it’s likely that Simon was part of the early church and was well known by the Christian community. Cyrenians were among the first hearers of the resurrection (Acts 2:10.) They were also the first (following Peter) of whom it is recorded that they shared the news of the resurrection with Gentiles as well as Jews (Acts 11:19-20.) And a Lucius of Cyrene is recorded as one of the elders of Antioch who sent Paul out on his first missionary trip. (Acts 13:1)
Did all of this come from a chance encounter one member of their community had with Jesus? I don’t know. But it’s an interesting thought. Sometimes were in the right place at the right time for a reason and we won’t always be happy about it. I’m sure Simon wasn’t happy when he was dragged out of the crowd by a Roman soldier. But what he did was special. He shared the burden of someone’s pain. He shared the burden for a brief time of the Lord’s pain. He provided comfort however fleeting.
27 And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. 28 But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Jesus had sympathizers among the crowd. Maybe they had heard Him teach and heal or maybe they simply hated seeing another Jew marched off by the hated Romans to die. But they wept over Him as He walked the road to Golgotha. Jesus tells them to cry over themselves. He is going to die, but His ordeal will be over within the day. The travails of Jerusalem would last years. There would be years of pain: invasion, strife, civil war, suffering, disease, and starvation. Those who tried to escape the city during the Roman siege would be caught and crucified. There were many crucifixions outside the city during this time. The survivors would be deported and sold as slaves.
Worse things are coming for the city, and the Lord still feels compassion for them in the middle of His own execution. That’s what love is.
32 Two others also, who were criminals, were being led away to be put to death with Him.
These two will come into play later. They are described as thieves. And they are both described as being hostile to Jesus, demanding that the Messiah deliver them and Himself from the Romans. Of course, one of them will have a change of heart as he recognizes real love for perhaps the first time.