As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. Luke 23:26
What was Simon doing at the side of the road and how was it that he was picked out from the crowd to help carry the cross? The fact that the authorities seized him out of the crowd implies that he was not given a choice about his role in the passion story. Nowhere does it say whether or not Simon was already a disciple of Jesus, but since his name is known to us as are the names of his sons, it can be assumed that if he was not already a disciple, he became one after the crucifixion.
Where were the other disciples when this happened? Would any of them been present and willing to assist Jesus in carrying his cross? The gospel stories indicate that when Jesus was seized by the authorities and sent to trial, his disciples deserted him out of fear. When Peter is asked if he was one of the ones who was with Jesus, he denies knowing him. The disciples followed at a distance, staying in the shadows to avoid meeting the same fate as their teacher.
It is easy to identify with the disciples in the many times that we let our own fear or cautiousness hold us back from doing the strong and righteous things. But what if we are Simon of Cyrene, not expecting to be thrust into the middle of the story, but there all the same?
The knock comes in the middle of the night. There is a stranger in danger who is looking for shelter. Providing shelter will put you in danger as well. How do you become the person who opens the door without hesitation?
The documentary Weapons of the Spirit tells the story of the 5000 Christian Huguenot residents of the French Village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon who provided shelter for nearly 5000 Jews during the Nazi occupation. The filmmaker is Peirre Sauvage, who was born in the village to a Jewish couple who took shelter there. He returns to the village as an adult to try to understand what took place here. Speaking with the residents of the village, a simple explanation is given.
When confronted with their heroism, though, they’re unanimously unimpressed with themselves — the way they see it, they made the only choice available to them: “For us, all that mattered is that they were people.”