I watched him walking towards me. His steps were heavy and slow, and his eyes were lifeless. His clothes were wet with fresh blood and sweat.
One by one, the sea of people stepped away from him. Some whispered, others stared, but he was oblivious. As he inched closer, I could see that his clothes were ripped at the shoulder. His bare skin covered in splinters.
"It should have been me", I whispered through my tears.
I covered my head in hopes that no one would recognize me. Not yet anyhow. They would have so many questions, but more likely they would have accusations.
"Where were you? Why weren’t you here?"
Was it just yesterday that I deserted my Master in his time of need? It didn’t seem possible. I had fled. My beloved Master knew it would happen. He had told me so, but I didn’t believe him. With every confidence a man can possess, I had given my word that I would never leave him. I would rather die than abandon him. I meant it to the very core of my being, but something entirely different happened.
My heart sank as I recalled the events of the previous night. Fear, yes, it was fear. In an instant I was overwhelmed by my wretched fear, and it set my feet in motion without a moment’s consideration.
How could I have done this? My Master had tried to prepare me. I thought I was. Oh the things I have seen on this journey with my Master. Miracles beyond human understanding I have seen with these eyes of mine. There are no words to describe the greatness I have witnessed.
A hearty gust of wind swept dust across the tops of my feet. My strength nearly failed me as I watched the dust settle between my toes. Before my fear compelled me to run, my Master had washed these very feet with his own hands and the strands of his hair. He was trying to teach me about serving. I had never felt such love before. My heart struggled as I tried to comprehend the depth of this love.
A small woman stopped beside me. Her face was streaked with tears. We stood silently together for several minutes. Both of us watched the weary man move slowly our way. Though she said nothing at first, I could hear her weeping.
“Did you know him?”
I dared not look directly at her for fear she might recognize me. Keeping my eyes fixed straight ahead, I answered, “Who? Simon?”
“No. Jesus. Did you know Jesus, the Christ?”
“Yes. Yes I did.”
We stood a few more moments together before she moved on. I watched her tiny frame become engulfed by the crowd.
"Yes, I did", I thought to myself. The words struck my heart with the force of an enemy sword. I knew him. I loved him. Yet, I hadn’t been there.
Simon, whom I had never met, stopped directly in front of me. Word had traveled quickly how a soldier had yanked him out from among the crowd, forcing him to carry the cross of my master, Jesus. His hands, the unwilling hands of a stranger, had been the ones that took up the cross of my Lord. I could see his hands clearly. They were marked by the same splinters that covered his shoulder.
Did He know that he did what I was afraid to do? While my hands trembled in fear, his hands carried the cross of Christ.
I don’t know why Simon, this stranger from Cyrene, stopped in front of me. I had come here to find him, and now he stood nearly within my arms reach. I had come to see for myself this man who was forced to do what I should have done. Should I approach him? Should I offer him comfort, food, shelter?
“I am so sorry.” The words leapt off my tongue. I hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but my heart and my deep sorrow could not contain it.
Simon turned towards me. His eyes fixed on mine, and I could see the tears etched on his face through the dust, blood and sweat.
A man standing close to Simon lifted his hand and pointed in my direction. “Aren’t you one of the disciples? Aren’t you one of the followers of Jesus?”
The crowd turned in my direction. I nodded, keeping my eyes locked only on Simon. “It should have been me.”
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