Simon of Cyrene is best known for his role in helping Jesus bear the weight of the cross bar on the way to Golgotha (a Grecianized form of the Aramaic word meaning a skull, also called by the Latin word "Calvary"). Contrary to cinematic pictures and production, it was only the horizontal crossbar which was carried by the condemned to be crucified, not the entire cross. All 3 synoptic gospel of Matthew, Mark, and Luke reveal the account of Simon being forced to help Jesus bear His cross, as He (Jesus) was most likely to weak to do so Himself due to the brutal scourging/whipping He had endured at the hands of the Roman soldiers. This article will examine the biblical texts below in an effort to learn more about Simon and honor his memory and contribution to Christian history.
As they were going out, they found a Cyrenian man named Simon. They forced him to carry his cross. (Mat 27:32 CSB)
They forced a man coming in from the country, who was passing by, to carry Jesus’s cross. He was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. (Mar 15:21 CSB)
As they led him away, they seized Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, and laid the cross on him to carry behind Jesus. (Luk 23:26 CSB)
These texts disclose two indisputable truths about Simon. The first is that he was from Cyrene, an ancient Greek colony near present day Shahhat, Libya in North Africa!
This means that Simon was undoubtedly a person of color. Unfortunately, he is often portrayedfilm and in pictures looking like a pale-skinned European. A quick google search of his name brings in mixed results of his skin tone. The fact that he is of Hamitic descent and from Cyrene should have alleviated any depiction of him as caucasian.
The second thing we know is that Simon was a father to Alexander and Rufus. The obvious mention of their name should indicate to us that Mark's audience knew them. It is likely that they were members of the Roman church. Paul asks the church at Rome to "Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother—and mine" (Rom 16:13 CSB). Although unconfirmed, it is possible that Paul is referring to Simon's son by the same name, lending further credence to the belief that they were members of the Roman church.
Simon was likely entering into the city to attend the Passover feast when he encountered Jesus. This providential encounter would change the life of him and his family forever. Scholars have postulated that Simon was converted to Christianity, and his wife and sons with him. Luke reveals that there were individuals from Cyrene were among the first Christian witnesses present at Pentecost. Luke also indicates that members of the "Freedmen’s Synagogue" including men from Cyrene. After Stephen's martyrdom, some believers fled Jerusalem and shared their faith in Antioch. Luke specifies another Cyrenian man by the name of Lucius being among them. Tradition states Simon went to Egypt and shared the Gospel. After that, according to the apocryphal Acts of Simon and Judas, Simon was martyred in 100 A.D by being cut in half with a saw.” (3) Roman Catholics believe that Simon was killed on the Isle of Chios in the Aegean Sea off the West Coast of Asia Minor (4).
In His infinite wisdom, God chose a black, African man from Cyrene to help bear the cross of our savior. Simon's selfless sacrifice was worthy enough to be noted by each synoptic gospel writer and the memory of what he did inspires all of us who, as disciples of Jesus the Christ, must carry our cross daily. Simon's path began by suffering with Christ and ended by suffering for Christ. For the Christian - there is no greater honor! As we prepare to enter into Black History Month - we do so by remembering Simon the Cyrenian!
James A. Brooks, Mark, vol. 23, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 256.
Richard R. Losch, All the People in the Bible: An A–Z Guide to the Saints, Scoundrels, and Other Characters in Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), 404.
Mark Hyman, Blacks Who Died for Jesus: A History Book (Nashville: Winston-Derek Publishers, 1988), 3.