“And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.”
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
(Luke 9:23 ESV)
Jesus said that coming after him would require self-denial and cross-bearing. These are just a couple of the so-called “terms of discipleship.” They are what we would call today “core commitments.” How easy, though, to treat them as though they were a new Law. There are others. In Matthew’s version of this same statement he adds, “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” And then says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it.”
But these are not a law. They are not even commands. The “terms of discipleship” are actually Jesus helping us come to terms with what having a rabbi take us on means. I recently asked an older Christian if he would consider being my new mentor. He’s a very busy, very academic man. He’s a semi-retired professor who is still working well over 40 hours a week in his mid-70s. One of the “terms” he gave me was that if I wanted to meet with him, I’d have to drive monthly to his office, about 2 hours from my home in CT. Do you really want a mentor? Then you shouldn’t expect the mentor to come to you. When I meet with him, if we go out for lunch, I will pay. Not because he asked it of me, but because I want to honor him. These are terms of the relationship. Because of his schedule, I will need to be on-time every time we meet. I will need to come prepared with an agenda of what I want to ask him. I will need to respect his time. But that’s not a law. No one is making me go see him. It isn’t a condition of my keeping my job. I’m doing it because I think there’s a lot I can learn from him. If he’s able to take me on (which we won’t know until his schedule clears in January), he will be my new rabbi.
Jesus was a very busy man. He selected twelve whom he dubbed Apostles. Then, remarkably, he issued an open invitation to ALL. Did it ever occur to you that he was sincerely inviting ALL of the hungry, ALL of the poor, ALL of the outcast, ALL of the faithful, ALL of the rich, ALL of the disenfranchised, ALL of the politicians, ALL of the scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees, ALL of the women who were part of his circle, ALL of the women-at-the-well, ALL of the women-caught-in-adultery, ALL of the prostitutes, ALL of the noble-born, ALL of the people who live on my street. ALL of the people who live in New Delhi and Dubai and Kabul and Tripoli. ALL. Jesus seriously invited anyone who wanted him to be their rabbi to come and follow him and learn from him. That’s not law. That’s a very gracious offer. And all it costs anyone who wants a rabbi is that they put their own interests behind his and that, when called upon by him to carry something heavy they will do it.
Isn’t it interesting that the person who was compelled to carry Jesus’ cross out of the city wasn’t a native-born Jew? He was probably Jewish – there was a synagogue in Cyrene. But the really important thing about his origin is that he was from Libya. The mention of his sons Alexander and Rufus suggests that by the time of the Crucifixion, this man and his whole family had already been following Christ as part of the larger body of disciples. This Libyan, who had probably already given up any guarantee of food and home and hearth for his family now bore the weight of association with a condemned man. We don’t know what others thought of Simon’s action.
To suggest he was bearing some disgrace would be conjecture. Focus instead on the very real weight he had to bear as he walked up from the city out to Golgotha. Did Jesus ask him to do it? Would the rabbi demand such a thing? I doubt it. Jesus spent his life, including his final moments, speaking comfort to the oppressed and the compelled. The events of Good Friday happened so quickly that many of Jesus’ followers were caught off-guard. Simon was simply a passerby at that moment, so we can’t even say for sure that he was already Jesus’ disciple before that day. But I suspect that at the moment Simon took the cross off Jesus’ shoulder and began to drag the beam himself, Jesus probably simply said, “Thank you.”
The point is that Jesus is still making the offer. Are you looking for a rabbi? I’m not asking “are you saved?” That’s a different offer. Are you looking for a rabbi? As the woman at the well said, “Come meet a man who told me everything I ever did.” Are you looking for someone like that? You won’t find him in a tweedy study at a university. You’ll find a mentor there, perhaps. But if you really want a rabbi, Jesus is still saying to ALL, “Come, follow me.”