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Following Jesus' example: compelled by force or by love?


By Jeanette Martino Land


It is said that Jesus was compelled by force to carry his cross. That force was manifested by actual physical power, as the Roman soldiers mercilessly kicked and beat Jesus, causing him to stumble and fall under the cross’s heavy weight.

I see another force at work here: Jesus’ loving obedience to his Father and his great love for us.

Love compelled Jesus to carry his cross.

When we meditate on the stations of the cross, we see a very human Jesus becoming progressively weaker, until he staggers and falls, unable to continue carrying his cross alone.

Enter Simon of Cyrene, who helps Jesus. Not because Simon offers to help. Rather, the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke describe Simon as being “pressed into service,” “seized” and “made to give aid.”

For whatever reason, Simon was not a happy camper. He did not want to extend himself and was not a willing helper. Perhaps he was hesitant, afraid to get involved with this man who had been judged a criminal. After all, he was an innocent bystander who had to be pulled out of the crowd by the soldiers and coerced into public service. He was summoned, forced into the street, and commanded to carry the weight of the cross behind the weak and bleeding Jesus.

Simon was compelled by force, not by love.

I have often wondered, “What did Simon think? What did he feel?” Perhaps he cursed to himself, “Why did they have to pick on me?” I can identify with that. When things go wrong, my first reaction often is, “Why me?” Only when I forget myself and again focus on Jesus, am I free to respond, “Well, why not me?”

Was Simon upset with himself, disgusted at being present for this spectacle? Did he resent being forced to help? I, too, am Simon, when I balk at feeling forced to help someone at a time that is not convenient for me. Or, like Simon, I can feel upset if I find myself in a situation where I’m put on the spot to say or do something, when I’d prefer to remain silent and not get publicly involved. When I’d rather stay within my comfort zone rather than take the risk of extending myself.

Yet, often times the cross is forced on us. Do we react or respond? Do we accept that cross grudgingly, or do we embrace it, compelled by Christ’s selfless love? Do we gladly accept Christ’s invitation to follow in his footsteps, ready to say “Yes!” whether it’s convenient or not?

Jesus always invited people to follow him. He continues to extend that invitation to each one of us, today . . . to take up his cross. Willingly, no matter what. In joy and in sorrow, for Jesus’ path includes a share in his sufferings. Jesus embraced his suffering with love.

We are asked to do the same.

So was Simon.

Yet, Simon was unwilling to assist Jesus. I believe that through his participation in Jesus’ Passion and Way of the Cross, Simon was enabled to listen and respond to Jesus’ invitation: “All of you, come to me!” And maybe Simon then was compelled by love to urge his sons and others to follow Jesus.

I believe this is true, because in Romans 16:13, Paul sends greetings to “Rufus, that outstanding worker in the Lord’s service. . . .” Rufus was Simon of Cyrene’s son.

May each of us be a willing Simon, compelled, not by physical force, but by Christ’s love, to spread his kingdom on earth, one loving act of service at a time.

Martino Land is a freelance writer from North Palm Beach, FL.