Luke 23: 26-31
And leading him away, they conscripted Simon, a Cyrenian, who just happened to be coming that way [through the city] from the country and lumbered him with the cross to carry it behind Jesus.
And following him was a great crowd of people, including women who began a concerted lament on his behalf. Turning to them, Jesus said:
“Daughters of Jerusalem. Do not shed your tears for me but shed tears for yourselves and for your children. For take note: the days are [certainly] coming in which they shall say: Blessed are the barren and the wombs that give not forth and the breasts that give no nourishment. That will be when they will be pleading for the mountains to fall on us and to the hills to give us cover. Because if they do this when the tree is full of sap, what will it be when the tree is died out.”
Simon of Cyrene now comes into Luke’s account. Is this the Simeon we read about in the Book of Acts (11:19-26; 13:1) at the refugee church Antioch? There is a record of a Simeon among the leaders of the Antioch congregation, with Niger of Cyrene. And given that in the transcription of Acts, Simon Peter has also been referred to as Simeon (Acts 15:14) we have some reason to believe that Luke might well be referring to the same person. We can say that Simon, the man who helped Jesus by carrying his cross, very probably came to be known by the members of the church.
And so Simon had been conscripted, arbitrarily it would seem, to carry the beam or post of Jesus’ cross. He joins the procession, and a lamentation comes forth, mainly from the women in the crowd. And so Luke was able, presumably from Simon’s eye-witness account, or an account of someone who received his account, of what transpired and how Jesus responded.
Did Jesus join in the lamentation? Was the comment he made sung as counter-point to their lament? Could it have been another of his compositions? We recall what we have said about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.
Daughters of Jerusalem,
Weep not for me but for yourselves!
Weep also for your children.
For surely comes the time
When they will say:
“How blessed are the wombs that never conceived,
How blessed the breasts that never gave nurture.”
Then they indeed shall say to the mountains:
“Come fall on us!”
And to the hills:
“Gives us complete cover!”
For if they do such things now,
Now, when the tree is full of sap,
What is to happen when it is dried out?
This paean is composed with references to the Old Testament. There is Exodus (23:26) with God’s promises of abundant fertility. Isaiah (2:9-10) and Hosea (10:8) prophesy that when Israel becomes an idol-worshipper her cry will be to be protected from the mountains and hills. There are allusion allusions that remind us of Proverbs (11:27-31) and Psalm 129.
Whether Luke learned of this lamentation of Jesus from Simon himself we do not know. But his account certainly gives us pause to reflect upon the poetic creativity of Jesus. Why should we not view this as the song Jesus sang, in genuine lamentation, on his way to his cruel execution? And Luke has certainly kept it alive for us by including it within his Gospel narrative.
Simon lived to tell the story of how he came to be involved in Jesus’ crucifixion. And Luke has included in his account his recognition that the story of Jesus has connections with all kinds of people. Two others were also crucified that day and, unlike Simon, it was not them that could tell the story of their contact with Jesus.