I was reading a Via Crucis written by JPII recently. For the Station, “Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross” he mentions that Simon was closer to Jesus than anyone on the Way of the Cross. Think about that: this random passerby is forced under fear of death to help carry Jesus’ cross, and he is closer to Christ than His own mother or beloved disciple. He didn’t choose to help Jesus out of compassion, as Veronica did. He didn’t weep for Jesus as the women of Jerusalem did. He was just walking along minding his own business and suddenly he finds himself front and center on the stage of human history. In Mel Gibson’s interpretation of the scene, he makes it very clear that this is not something he chose, and that he is an innocent man, forced to carry the cross of one who is condemned.
What implications for all of us who suffer! No one wakes up one day and thinks, “Hmm. Maybe today I’ll be in a car accident that will leave me paralyzed.” No one goes in for that exciting first peek at baby and expects to get a fatal diagnosis. These are things that strike us out of the blue. And they hurt like hell. And we do not choose them. Yet we are closer in these moments to the Lord than we can ever imagine. Closer, maybe even, than the blue-haired lady in the Rosary group.
I would guess Simon, shouldering the burden, at first was repulsed by Jesus if he noticed Him at all. Isaiah’s description of Jesus, after all, is that He was beyond all semblance of a man. Should this not be all of our first tastes of suffering? It entered the world through evil, and therefore should disgust us. But the fact that Simon and his sons are called by name in Scripture, as well as their place of origin, suggests that the Christian disciples receiving the Gospels would have known who he was. Which suggests that this encounter with the bloodied, beaten Savior changed Simon. Again, Gibson’s portrayal of this is very moving. At a certain point, he begins to shoulder the burden not out of duty but compassion. Later, as he leaves Jesus at Golgotha, there is something within him that registers: it was really Jesus shouldering burden.
This is a blueprint for us in our suffering. Let us behold in our desperate situations the Savior who understands them deeply because He has experienced them. And let’s not turn away, but instead allow our closeness to Him transform us- not necessarily by changing the circumstance, but by changing our own hearts.