Simon, would you still have passed that way? Would you still have passed that way if you had known how you would be mistreated? Would you still have ventured into the city if you had known that you would be forced to carry another man’s burden? Would you still have entered that gate and strolled down that street if you had known that the cross of another man would soon be upon your shoulders, that his blood would soon stain your hands, your face, your clothes?
It was no honor to carry the cross of a condemned criminal, but the kind of insult a conquering army can demand of a people that has bowed before their sword. And so, when that battered man no longer had strength to carry his heavy beam, the soldiers compelled you to do it on his behalf. I wonder if they chose you at random, or if they chose you because you looked compliant and complacent. I wonder if they knew from your appearance that you were from out of town, from your dress or complexion or demeanor that you were from faraway Cyrene. I wonder if they were choosing an easy mark, if they were picking on a foreigner.
That beam must have been heavy. It must have been difficult to hoist it to your shoulder, slick as it was with the blood of the criminal whose appearance was so disfigured that he did not even look like a man. It must have been excruciating to have to follow in the faltering footsteps of one who had been so severely beaten that he no longer even resembled a human being. It must have been humiliating to join the procession of barking soldiers, mocking priests, gawking passersby. It must have been exhausting to carry that crossbeam up that long way of sorrow, to carry it all the way to that terrible place of execution. Did your cheeks burn with shame at the embarrassment of it, your heart beat faster at the unfairness of it, your eyes fill with tears at the humiliation of it?
I wonder if you remained there on Golgotha to witness the execution, to watch his hands be placed against the beam, to hear his cries pierce your ears as the nails pierced his wrists. I wonder if you saw him be lifted up to hang between heaven and earth, between God and man. I wonder if you heard the words he spoke—words of agony, words of love, words of forgiveness. I wonder if you were there when the skies went dark, when the ground quaked, when the Centurion cried out, “Certainly this man was innocent!” I wonder if you were there still when Joseph took the body and placed it in a tomb in which no one had ever yet been laid. I wonder where you went and what you did as the day of Preparation gave way to the day of sabbath.
But mostly, Simon, I wonder: if you had known, would you still have passed that way?
Across the vast chasm of time and space I hear his reply. “I would still have passed that way. I would still have passed that way even if I had known I would be mistreated, for by sharing his burden I became the first to share in his sufferings. I would still have ventured into the city, for by easing his load I was given the honor of easing his agony—an honor bestowed only to an angel in the garden and to me in the streets. I would still have entered that very gate and strolled that very street even if I had known that his blood would soon be upon me, for it was that very blood that has redeemed me, that has cleansed and forgiven me, that has given me peace with God. I would still have gone that way, for that light, momentary affliction prepared me for an eternal weight of glory that I can now testify is beyond all comparison. By going that way I was set upon the narrow way, by going that way I was first taught to deny myself, to take up my cross, and to follow him. I would pass that way again in an instant to serve him again in a moment, for I know now that I carried his cross so I would never need to suffer upon mine.”