The eighth Station of the Cross is an act of mercy, when soldiers pressed Simon of Cyrene into service to help Jesus carry the cross. This station represents a single verse from scripture, from The NRSV, “They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus.” and from The Message, “There was a man walking by, coming from work, Simon from Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. They made him carry Jesus’ cross.”
It is interesting that this act of mercy was not on the part of Simon. Simon didn’t see the suffering Jesus and rush forward to help him with his burden. Jesus did not ask Simon — or anyone in the crowd — for help. Rather, it was the Roman soldiers who compelled Simon, who made him carry the cross. Perhaps these soldiers were responding to Pilate’s reticence to condemn Jesus. Perhaps they genuinely felt bad for him. Perhaps this was actually routine: the soldiers knew that anyone surviving a Roman flogging would be in no shape to carry a 50-pound (or 150-pound) weight over that distance.
Regardless, we get a bit of break today, right in the middle of the Stations. Up until now, we’ve been confronted with betrayal, with violence, with cruelty, with abandonment, with protestation, with a bloodthirsty mob, with jeering and mocking and spitting crowds. And today, there is respite. Even if Simon of Cyrene had no choice in this matter whatsoever, even if the soldiers compelled him to help out of sheer practicality: this Station of the Cross remains a glimpse of what God’s kingdom is like. The kingdom of God is like a man who bears the cross for another.