This past month, I reconnected with a college friend. Michael and I commuted to Fairfield University and spent what free time we had between classes in the campus center lounge grabbing coffee or a greasy hamburger and fries. There are fond memories of the time we spent sharing snippets of our life with each other. We didn’t have any classes together so we couldn’t compare notes on teachers and courses, which was a good thing, because it gave us the opportunity to go beyond complaining about school and assignments. Michael was an English major who also loved to paint oil portraits and play jazz saxophone. At lunch, he would have his signature cap on and would be sitting at the corner table with his sax case by his side. There, he would regale me with his latest poems and stories and show me his sketches. I would then catch him up on the latest hospital drama from whatever clinical rotation I happened to be in at the time.
Fast forward to October 2016. After a long and distinguished career in law enforcement, Michael has published a gripping crime thriller, Shoshana, and has two more in the pipeline. He has also continued to follow his passions for painting and playing his sax. Michael is a Christian, and he tells me the guide to his place in life is Matthew 25:35-40:
‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Perhaps that’s why, of all his oil portraiture over the years, the one piece closest to his heart is an amazing replica of Titian’s – Christ Carrying the Cross (pictured).
Jesus’s love for us is everlasting, and nothing would stop His work on the Cross to reconcile us to the Father. But, on His agonizing walk to Calvary, Jesus collapsed under the weight of the heavy crossbeam and the burden of our sins. “Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross”. (Mark 15:21)
What of Simon? We are told he was “compelled” to help Jesus, which would lead us to believe he didn’t do it willingly, and yet in verse 21, Mark seems to express a familiarity with Simon and his sons.
Was Simon simply in the wrong place at the wrong time or was he in the right place at the right time because God placed Him there for His purpose? Was Simon a non-believer, or a believer who was afraid to stand up for fear of repercussions? The answers are unclear, but whether Simon was a non-believer or a cowardly believer, and whether or not he did it willingly, Simon accepted the opportunity that God placed before him and carried that cross with Jesus. And his heart was changed forever. In Acts, Paul talks about Rufus being chosen in the Lord and Rufus’s mother being like a mother to him. We can draw a conclusion that God’s grace was all over Simon that day, and as the head of his household Simon proclaimed Jesus as Lord and Savior to his entire family.
Getting back to my friend Michael’s favorite verse, can you imagine being able to say, I visited the sick, I fed the hungry, and I helped Jesus carry His cross? Well, only Simon had that privilege, but what about us picking up our crosses and following Jesus? Can we give up a life of sinful pleasure and live according to Christ’s expectations for us? There are trials in being a Christian but there is joy in knowing that the Lord will lift us up in each and every one of them. With the dawning of every new day, God provides “Simon” opportunities for us to be transformed through the love we show to others.
In 2005, Michael’s parents were suffering from a multitude of health issues. Each morning and evening for over a year Michael tended to his parents as they slowly deteriorated, until they passed away within three months of each other. In death, Michael was able to honor his parents’ request: He played four Irish melodies on his sax over his dad’s casket, and four Italian melodies over his mother’s. Opportunities to feed Jesus when He is hungry, give Him drink when He is thirsty, visit Him when He is sick, and help Him carry His cross are endless. Because on the last day when we say, “Lord, we don’t remember doing that,” we pray He will be able to reply, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Thank you, Michael, for the inspiration.