STATIONS OF THE CROSS: Five — Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross, by Henri Nouwen

stations of the cross nouwen

From Walk With Jesus

Two men are working together in Bangladesh to build their small huts.  These huts are very simple, made of mud, bamboo, rocks, and jute sticks, but they are places where poeple can have a sense of home and live together under a protective roof.  As I look at these two men carrying together their heavy load of rocks, I am struck by the harmony of their bodies.  It seems almost as if they are dancing.  Their heavy load seems to become a light burden, a basket of fruit.

As I think of the highly competitive society in which I live, in which land gets more expensive day by day and in which developers build rows of houses to be sold for half a million dollars each, I feel a certain envy toward these “dancers.”  Their houses will be simple.  There may not be a cement or wooden floor; there may not be any tables, chairs, or dressers.  But there will be a safe place for family and friends, and there will be a deep sense of having made something together that is precious and sacred.

Rich people have money.  Poor people have time.  We are always busy running from one place to the other, doing one thing after the other, keeping track of all the things that money can buy.  But seldom do we feel that we are truly together.  Among many poor people, however, I have seen the art of working, eating, playing, and praying together.  I have seen broad smiles, and I have heard wild laughter and many words of thanks.  There always seemed to be plenty of time and a deep trust that even when there are few things to hold onto there are always many people to love.


When Jesus was carrying his cross to Golgotha, the soldiers came across a man from Cyrene, called Simon, and they enlisted him to carry the cross because it had become too heavy for Jesus alone.  He was unable to carry it to the place of his execution and needed the help of a stranger to fulfill his mission.  So much weakness, so much vulnerability.  Jesus needs us to fulfill his mission.  He needs people to carry the cross with him and for him.  He came to us to show us the way to his Father’s home.  He came to offer us a new dwelling place, to give us a new sense of belonging, to point us to the true safety.  But he cannot do it alone.  The hard, painful work of salvation is a work in which God becomes dependent on human beings.  Yes, God is full of power, glory, and majesty.  But God chose to be among us as one of us – as a dependent human being.  To his followers who wanted to defend him with their swords Jesus said: “Put your sword back. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, who would promptly send more than twelve legions of angels to my defense?  But then, how would the scriptures be fulfilled that say this is the way it must be?” (Matthew 26:52-54)  Jesus’s way is the way of powerlessness, of dependence, of passion.  He who became a child, dependent on the love and care of Mary and Joseph and so many others, completes his Earthly journey in total dependency.  He becomes a waiting God.  He waits, wondering what others will do with him.  Will he be betrayed or proclaimed?  Executed in abandonment or followed?  Will he be nailed to the cross with no followers near him or will someone help him to carry the cross?  For Jesus to become the savior of the world, he needs people willing to carry the cross with him.  Some do it voluntarily; some have to be “enlisted”; but once they feel the weight of the wood, they discover that it is a light burden, an easy yoke that leads to the Father’s home.


I feel within me a strong desire to live my life on my own.  In fact, my society praises the self-made people who are in control of their destinies, set their own goals, fulfill their own aspirations, and build their own kingdoms.  It is very hard for me to truly believe that spiritual maturity is a willingness to let others guide me and “lead me even where I would rather not go,” (John 21:18).  And still, every time I am willing to break out of my false need for self-sufficiency and dare to ask for help, a new community emerges – a fellowship of the weak – strong in the trust that together we can be a people of hope for a broken world.  Simon of Cyrene discovered a new communion.  Everyone whom I allow to touch me in my weakness and help me to be faithful to my journey to God’s home will come to realize that he or she has a gift to offer that may have remained hidden for a very long time.  To receive help, support, guidance, affection, and care may well be a greater call than that of giving all these things because in receiving I reveal the gift to the givers and a new life together can begin.  These two men of Bangladesh are not just working together.  They are celebrating their shared humanity and so preparing a new home.  That is Jesus’s call to all people, a call that often comes to us through the poor.

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