A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.
In a Nutshell
In Jesus' execution, amazing things were happening. Those involved later came to know the full story and their lives were changed. Simon, from Cyrene, was asked to carry Jesus' cross.
Think what this sentence would have meant to the first readers of Mark's gospel?
This was a particularly gruesome method of execution. Have you ever seen a television account of someone being executed? It is awful. Roman execution was performed so all who wanted could see.
I wonder how Mark learned about this event? Cyrene is in North Africa and that was the location of a Jewish settlement. Rufus seems to be mentioned in a list Paul gives us in Romans 16:13, and Simon, the father, was at Antioch when Barnabas brought young Mark there. Clearly Mark relied upon people who were known to him. He seems to be saying: You can ask Rufus and Alexander about this; their father was there. Ask them. They'll tell you.
It was all sport to most of the soldiers. By the time Jesus got out to the road they were impatient to have the whole thing over and done with. By this time Jesus was simply incapable of carrying His cross. They had entertained themselves with "dress ups" and couldn't help themselves. They had sunk their boots in. They had been brutal. It reminds us that this is what people do when they think they are in control; when soldiers prefer their own ways to God's justice, this is how people are treated. They think they are in control. But they are not.
Just look at what happens? God is there! The soldiers are over-ruled. They grab a passer-by and force him to do their work. They become participants in an historical moment which changes the life of this man and his family. A door is opened. A new chapter begins and Simon and his sons take part in the story of the Messiah. Simon and his sons become part of something that will go on long after the Roman Empire has collapsed into dust. The message will get out. The world will hear the news of Jesus' death. And more than that. God keeps His promises. The story of Jesus doesn't end with Jesus' death. Not by a long chalk.