Editor’s Note: Missioner Janice Smullen reflects on the figure of Simon the Cyrenian who helped Jesus carry his cross, and relates it to a personal encounter on mission.
“As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus.” –Luke 23:26
I have to wonder about Simon’s reaction to this spectacle, as he “came in from the country.” What did he think as he viewed this crowd? Did he think this was a happy gathering? A parade? Did he feel horror as he saw what was really happening? I can identify with that journey of emotions as I think of my initial enthusiasm with an encounter at a bus stop, and then my eventual grasp of reality.
One day, not long after arriving here in Jamaica last year, Erin and I were sitting waiting for the bus when a Jamaican woman approached us, asking for money. We said “No,” but she continued to sit and tell us her story: she is 37; was abandoned by her mother; followed one guy to England where she was a model; followed a different guy to the US where she helped with his landscaping business; used drugs; lost her passport; is without a permanent home and is now realizing that the times when she had a job had given her some stability and focus, and now she wants to find a job.
“Well,” I thought, “here is my first opportunity as a missioner for accompaniment!” I told her that I would help her find a job. I took her phone number and did some research with the Ministry of Labor here to see what she would need. I told her what would be required and then waited for her to call me back. She eventually did, and in the meantime, I heard of an educational and job certification program run in conjunction with a Catholic Church that, I thought, might be more supportive of her than the Ministry of Labor.
Long story short, she began at the school with great gratitude and enthusiasm but soon began to flounder, cut class, and exhibit negative fears and anger about the leadership and the other students there. As my school year demands mounted, I had less time to tutor this woman. When we did meet, she showed little interest in tutoring. I encouraged her to take advantage of the resources at the school, especially the computers there and to get help with the math. As the fall term progressed, and especially after Christmas, her fears became more predominant. I realized that I don’t have the psychological background to help her overcome those. I can still be available to talk with her, but I am not able to solve her problems.
At this point, her success with the program seems unlikely, even though they are willing to do what they can to help her succeed.
Unlike Simon, who was forced to carry the cross, I do know that I approached this opportunity openly and willingly. Life often gives us burdens that we are forced to carry, but this was an option for me. Unlike the Romans, Jesus doesn’t force us to walk with him, and this experience has taught me to recognize my limits, and turn things over to His help.
Mark’s version of this scene (15:21) mentions Simon’s sons, and there is some speculation that they went on to become important members in the early Christian faith. I can certainly identify with the process of growth and love that comes from an encounter with Christ. I have felt those moments of strength and grace that enable me to move further forward. I continue to pray that a spark of grace will ignite this woman’s heart. I know that her difficult life has forced her to build up strong walls and rely on certain behaviors just to survive. She has had to carry a cross, and it is my prayer that—in my time left here—I may be able to encourage her to realize that other people are willing to help her carry that cross and ease her burden so she may progress forward.
As I continue mission here, I pray that guidance from others here will allow me to know my limits and my strengths, and that I will trust God to do the rest.
Reflection Question: Are there burdens that you need to give to Christ, asking for guidance and resources to help carry the load?