Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Neglected Passages #4: Mark 15:21

This one will slide a little toward the devotional end. Once in class I was reading through Mark's passion narrative aloud -- what is it about reading aloud rather than just with my eyes? -- when I bumped against Mark 15:21. This little verse, which I'd never noticed before, made me pause. I was too choked up to go on.

The verse reads, "And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene as he was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross."

"The father of Alexander and Rufus." Every once in awhile, a biblical passage offers just a little window into history. You can imagine Mark's first audience (audiences?) hearing this verse performed, with people looking around the room at one another. Alexander and Rufus? Really? Perhaps Alexander and Rufus were even in the room at the moment.

At a minimum, the author of Mark expects the audience to know who Alexander and Rufus were. That's all we know. Beyond that, one wonders what effect carrying the cross had on Simon, such that his two sons were prominent believers a generation later. And beyond that, one wonders so much more....


Reverend Ref + said...

It seems that this is the same Rufus who is mentioned in Romans 16:13; and may or may not be Rufus, Bishop of Thebes who is listed with the 70 disciples in the Orthodox Church.

But then again, how much of that is speculation and Church tradition I can't say.

Greg Carey said...

Folks speculate that maybe it's the same Rufus.

Richard Fellows said...


I think that Simon of Cyrene was in Jerusalem at that time to support Jesus. That is to say, he was a member of the Jesus movement already. This explains why his sons were known to Mark's audience. It also explains why the soldiers picked on him.

It is true that the text describes him as a passer-by who was coming in from the country, but this is no counter-argument. When Simon of Cyrene told his story publicly he would surely not have said something like, "I was in Jerusalem to agitate for Jesus and look for an opportunity to throw stones at the soldiers". For his own protection against persecution by Roman and/or Jewish authorities he would have left it ambiguous as to whether he was an innocent by-stander. I therefore take this verse to be an example of a protective silence. Other players in the passion week drama are afforded protective silences in Mark's gospel (see Bauckham's "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses").