The Cyrenian Cycle: Simon of Cyrene

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Rufina's oldest son despised
Her faith. At sixteen all he prized
Was what would make him great, he thought,
Like land and power. All she taught
Him seemed a loss, and all her prayers
A waste. He'd stand beneath the stairs
At synagogue each week and hear
Them pray: "Cyrene is not dear
To us like Zion's holy hill,
And after centuries, we still
Can dream that some day when, O Lord,
You come, we will, with one accord,
Go up from Africa, and stand
With you upon the Promised Land
Where you are Lord of all, alone,
And we, with joy, before your throne.
Cyrene is not Jesse's Stem,
Nor is this place Jerusalem.
If I desire this vanity,
Cut out my eye that I might see."

And every week the boy would smirk,
and say beneath his breath: "This quirk
Of Jewish piety is for
The weak. Why should I play the poor,
And bow before another's throne
Someday, when I can have my own?
Perhaps an African can show
These scraping refugees to go
Up to the Promised Land, and take
It any way they can, and make
A name there for themselves, instead
Of slavish dreams about some dread
And awful messianic king."

The night he ran away, a string
Around his sack swung down and woke
His brother Malchus. "This a joke?"
He whispered, so he wouldn't wake
His brother Lucius. "No. And take
Care, little man. Perhaps we'll meet
Some day. And when we do, my feet
Will stand on my own land, and this
Black back will bend for no man's bliss
But mine." "Please, Simon, don't go 'way;
I know Mom will be sad. Please stay."
"Our mother trusts in God. If she
Should weep, and ever want to see
My face again, then maybe her
Messiah will come down and stir
Himself to locate my estate
In Palestine, and nominate
Me for some lofty ministry
In his dominion there, and she
Can come back to the Promised Land
With all the whimp'ring exile band,
And see what great assignment he
Has laid aside and given me."
"Then, Simon, I will pray for you."
"Look, Malchus, here's a lesson: Do,
Don't pray. And work, don't wait. Two feet,
Two hands, two eyes, I am complete.
You need not pray for me. Farewell."

Before the year was out, the spell
Of freedom fell on Lucius, then
On Malchus; and they left. Again,
And then again a thousand times
Rufina wept and prayed: "The times,
The places and the peoples in
The whole wide world, O God, begin
And end with your design. And great
With mercy is your mind. No fate
Or fortune rules the earth, nor hate,
Nor apathy. But all the weight
Of ev'ry motion in the earth
And sky is in your hands, from birth
To death, the life of ev'ry man —
And boy. None ever runs or ran
So fast or far that he could leave
Your eye. And so, great God, I cleave
To you alone. The Stoics sense
The magnitude of Providence,
But do not know your name. But I
Proclaim: the hand that rules the sky
And all the earth, belongs to Christ!
For me the prophets have sufficed
To demonstrate his pow'r. And so
I pray, O God, that you would go,
And find my boys, where they are lost
And make their paths by his be crossed."

And so it came to pass that, in
A space of twenty years, the skin
Of Simon's face was known throughout
The hills of Judah. "Niger" was the tout
And name of this dark prodigy:
The "dark one" with a foreign key
To every piece of land he set
His eye to own. "I see, I get,"
He used to say. And it was true,
Of treasured fields, and women too.
He never married, but he bore
Two sons, and smuggled them to Dor
Beside the sea and sold them to
A Jewish pilgrim passing through
Who lived in Rome. The pious folk
Would tremble when he spoke
About the Christ: "I own more lots
Within the Promised Land, and plots
Around Jerusalem than I
Can count. And so I think that, by
My reckoning, Messiah will
Be forced to ask that I should fill
Some need in his great strategy
To plant his kingdom here."

And he
Would watch pretenders come and go,
Like Theudas. With a single blow
The Romans blasted all his men.
They did the same to Judas, then
Purged Galilee of all his wild
And crazy followers, exiled
The old, and killed the young. The dark
One, Simon Niger, watched, to mark
Each monied casualty; then he
Moved in, and gathered up, at three
Times cheaper than their worth, the trees
And farms from frightened families.

And so it went for years, until
The man named Jesus claimed to fill
The promises, but had no sword,
Or fighting forces — like a Lord
Without a minion. Simon laughed
Out loud: "Does he think he will draft
A following with messages
About the birds? And when he says,
That we must sell our land and be
As lowly as a child, does he
Believe that anyone will come?
The man must be insane. One crumb
Of common sense would see that no
One, rich or poor, would rise, and go
Behind a vagabond who's got
No place to lay his head. There's not
A beggar's chance that anyone
With property, like me, would run
Behind a fool who says that wealth
Can choke you like a thorn, and health
Of soul does not consist in what
You have, and purse strings should be cut,
And hard-earned cash just given to
The poor, and everything that you
Forsake will somehow bless you more.
I even heard him say, the door
To life is death, and that the price
Of seeing him in paradise
Is that we bear a bloody cross
With him, and count it gain not loss.
The man's insane."

But soon the wheel
Of Providence (unwearied seal
Of distant prayer) turned on its bolt.
That Friday looked like a revolt,
As Simon came in from the farm
Where he had spent the night. Alarm
Was in the air, and people ran
And whispered. Simon stopped a man
And asked him, "What's all this?" He said,
"The Nazarene will soon be dead.
They took him yesterday without
A fight, and now there's not a doubt
That he'll be crucified today.
All night the courts have met. They say
That even Herod gave the nod.
They beat him with the scourge and rod,
And crowds are crying, Crucify!
Come! Just beyond that hill nearby
Is where they do this stuff. It's called
The Skull." But Simon froze, appalled.
"How can they crucify a meek
And harmless fool? Why do they seek
The gibbet for a clown? As though
A child might rise and overthrow
The empire." Simon had to know.
And so he took the ridge along
The Hinnom vale and through a throng
Of peasants pushed his way up to
A line of soldiers. Then, "Hey, you!"
A black Centurion again
Called out, "You there, dark one!" The men
Around him shouldered Simon to
The bloody street and pushed him through
The barricade. And there he saw
The harmless criminal, like raw
And butchered meat bent down on hands
And knees, and heaving while the strands
Of matted, crimson hair hung ‘round
His face while he stared at the ground.
"Get down and lift this cross. I'm sure
Messiah will be pleased that you're
Well-dressed for such a ministry.
It isn't every day, you see,
That you can serve a king. Now take
It up, dark man, and for the sake
Of messianic pride you stay
Behind and follow him. They say
That this was his command. You see,
He triumphs on his bloody knee."
He prodded Jesus with his sword,
And, silent as a lamb, the Lord
Of glory stood, and walked outside
Jerusalem. And there beside
The road, with sleepless, weeping eyes,
Was Malchus like a living prize
Of war. Just then a thud, and groan
And Simon lay with broken bone
Beneath the cross where it had crushed
His hand. The Roman soldier flushed
With rage and screamed, "Get up, you ape!
Do you think groans are worth escape
From what the Crown has bidden you
To do? Get up!" His whip cut through
The air, and severed Simon's eye
In half. And when he heard the cry
He drew his sword. "I'll carry it!"
The voice was Malchus', and he fit
The cross around his neck and bore
It up the hill. And there, before
The Lord, with reverence, he lay
It down, then stood, and walked away,
Back down the hill where Simon cried
With pain and fear and shame, and tried
To keep the blood inside his eye. He knelt
Beside the wealthy African and felt
The broken bone. "I think this was
A wish, come true, don't you? What does
A sovereign God more have to do
Than break your bone, to waken you,
And blind your eye, that you may see?
Did not you always want to be
A chief and have a place of state,
And hope that God would nominate
You for some lofty ministry
In his dominion? Look and see,
What great assignment Christ should lay
Aside and give for you today."

He turned his bloody face to see
The voice that spoke, and quietly
They stared until the decades fell.
"Are you my brother Malchus? Tell
Me truthfully." "I am." "How did
You find me here? You were a kid.
How did you know that it was I?"
"I prayed for you last night that, high
Above the ways of man, some wheel
Of Providence would let me heal
Your eyes the way Christ healed my ear."
And then he bowed and put his hand
Upon his brother's eye, and said, "O land,
You have been broken now, and lost
Your pow'r to blind. And ev'ry cost
Is paid for Simon's sight. Come, Lord
Of light, and let it be restored."
And Simon whispered through his tears
From deep within the hidden years,
"If I desire this vanity,
Cut out my eye that I might see."

The truth of advent candle two
Is that our God is never through
With wonders of his power and grace,
Nor ever blocked by time or place.
But wheels are turning everywhere
To open eyes and answer prayer.