They Pressed Him into Service

Simon von Cyrene

Simon von Cyrene (Bamberger Kreuzweg; Image via Wikipedia)

Mark 15:21 describes Simon of Cyrene as having been “pressed into service” (ἀγγαρεύουσιν . . . Σίμωνα Κυρηναῖον) to carry Jesus’ cross, and Matt 27:32 uses the same language (ἄνθρωπον Κυρηναῖον ὀνόματι Σίμωνα . . . ἠγγάρευσαν). Only Matthew’s narrative, however, has Jesus previously instructing his disciples, saying, ὅστις σε ἀγγαρεύσει μίλιον ἕν, ὕπαγε μετʼ αὐτοῦ δύο (Matt 5:41; whoever will press you into service for one mile, go with him for two; cf. Bruce, “Synoptic Gospels,” 328; Gundry, Matthew, 94; Keener, Matthew, 199). Matthew does not identify how far Simon of Cyrene carried Jesus’ cross, but the accompanying soldiers at least press him into service not to carry his own cross, as would have been anticipated, but someone else’s (Matt 27:27–32; France, Matthew, 221–22, 1064–65; cf. Keener, Matthew, 199–200; Lightfoot, Commentary, 2:132–33; Schürer, Jewish People, 2.2.231). At this juncture, Jesus’ own disciples are not to be “found,” and in their stead is only one Cyrenean who appears only here in the synoptic tradition (Matt 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). Although certainly not explicitly included among the audience for Jesus’ earlier instruction in Matt 5:41, Simon here serves, where others fail to do so, as a model of the kind of discipleship that Jesus has described. In this way, Simon has a share in Jesus’ cross, albeit still only to a limited extent (Allison, “Anticipating the Passion,” CBQ 56.4 [1994]: 704–5; cf. Luke 9:23; 14:27; 23:26; Rom 6:5; Phil 3:8–11; Augustine, Cons., 3.37 [NPNF1 6:196]; Origen, Comm. Matt., 12.24 [ANF 9:464]; [Pseudo-]Tertullian, Haer., 9.1 [ANF 3:650]*; Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, 95–104, 161; Keener, Matthew, 673).

* In his introduction to this volume, Cleveland Coxe argues against Tertullian’s authorship of this document. Instead, relying particularly on Jerome’s testimony, Coxe suggests that Victorinus (d. ca. AD 303) may be responsible for this text (14).

Cross-posted from New Testament Interpretation.

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