On the way they met a man named Simon, who was coming into the city from the country, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was from Cyrene and was the father of Alexander and Rufus.) They took Jesus to a place called Golgotha, which means “The Place of the Skull.”
Wait a minute! Back up! The father of Alexander and Rufus? Who are Alexander and Rufus? And why are they important enough to mention right in the middle of the story of Jesus’ crucifixion? No other gospel writer mentions them.
There is only one reason I can think of for including them in the story: the people for whom this gospel was intended knew them! Alexander and Rufus were members of their community! Alexander and Rufus were Christians!
This story, Jesus’ story, is not about something that happened to some foreigners in some distant land. You know Alexander and Rufus? Their father was there when Jesus was executed! Their father was the one who was made to carry the Roman cross on which he was hung!
This story, Jesus’ story, is not just about other people, not just for other people. It’s about you! It is for you! It is your story too!
They took Jesus to a place called Golgotha, which means “The Place of the Skull.” There they tried to give him wine mixed with a drug called myrrh, but Jesus would not drink it. Then they crucified him and divided his clothes among themselves, throwing dice to see who would get which piece of clothing. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The notice of the accusation against him said: “The King of the Jews.” They also crucified two bandits with Jesus, one on his right and the other on his left.
It seems this execution was no big deal to the Roman authorities. This was no high level display of Roman superiority, no high profile execution of a well-known subversive. He was crucified … among a group of thieves! He was put to death as a petty criminal!
His was not a martyr’s death, but a common death, a death any of us might suffer, deservedly or undeservedly, literally or emotionally, at the hands of those who would judge us.
He was judged unworthy, undesirable, expendable, unwanted, and he paid the ultimate price of rejection by humanity and by God.
So when we are judged unworthy, undesirable, expendable, unwanted, when we are rejected, undeservedly by our peers or deservedly by God, we can know that Jesus has been there too. He shares our lot with us, and we share his lot with him.
With him, we die, and with him … You know the story is not yet finished! Jesus is not a martyr, but a savior!
People passing by shook their heads and hurled insults at Jesus: “Aha! You were going to tear down the Temple and build it up again in three days! Now come down from the cross and save yourself!”
In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the Law made fun of Jesus, saying to one another, “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! Let us see the Messiah, the king of Israel, come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him!”
And the two who were crucified with Jesus insulted him also.
They all insulted him. Even the thieves insulted him! What could possibly prompt a dying criminal to insult a man who shares his fate?
Insecurity. Fear. Threat. Jealousy. They are all threatened by what they do not understand and jealous of what they are unwilling to give up, what even a dying man is unwilling to give up … his pride. To accept what Jesus says, to embrace who Jesus is, we must give up our pride. We must admit what we are, admit what we do not know and what we cannot do. We must admit … we need him.
We need him. We need him. Jesus, our deliverer. Jesus, our savior. Jesus, our Lord!