Perhaps we may reconstruct the scene. The soldiers wanted to get their job done—not that they had anything else important to do, but like any rough, healthy men, they soon lost patience with a stumbling, falling man. Simon of Cyrene just then came along, returning from the country. Perhaps he indicated some pity for the crushed, beaten carrier of the Cross. Perhaps he made some remark that was overheard by the soldiers. Perhaps there was some reason why they singled him out and forced him to help. There were dozens of others who could have served just as well.
Earlier, the crown of thorns had been thought up by the soldiers as a jest. Now they added another bit of improvised merriment. lt would be a joke to make this sympathetic Simon play the role of a condemned criminal. Besides, they would get to their destination sooner and get the job done. Why should they wait for this weary King of the Jews to get back His breath and His strength? On to the top of the hill and a refreshing drink of wine!
Artists have pictured Simon as carrying part of the Cross, as though he carried one end and Christ carried the other. The words of the Gospel are not entirely clear: “And going out, they found a man of Cyrene, named Simon: him they forced to take up His cross.” (Matt. 27:32). “They laid the cross On him to carry after Jesus.” (Luke 23:26). The word used for cross is patibulum, which really means the crosspiece. Whatever it was the Cross as pictured in traditional art, or the crossbeam—Simon himself bore at least part of the burden.
Cyrene was a Greek city in what is now Libya in northern Africa. Either Simon had personally lived there, or his ancestors had. In any case, people knew him as Simon the Cyrenean, although he may have been a Jew. Most likely, he now lived in Jerusalem, since at the time he was returning from the fields. He had probably been working there.
St. Mark mentions the names of the two Sons of Simon: Rufus and Alexander. (Mark 15:21). In the course of time, these two became Christians, along with their mother and Simon himself. They are spoken of several times later in the New Testament. It is interesting to note that the mother was so beloved by St. Paul that he refers to her as his own mother: “Salute Rufus, elect in the Lord, and his mother and mine.” (Rom. 16:13).