Via Dolorosa (“The Way of Suffering” or “The Way of Sorrow”)
The account of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus is recorded in all four gospels: Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; and John 19. In those accounts we read that following Jesus’ arrest he was taken to Pilate, tried and sentenced to death. After giving him a brutal beating and mocking him, the soldiers led Jesus from the governor’s headquarters to Golgotha, the place where they crucified him. The Via Dolorosa is a road/route through the Old City of Jerusalem which is traditionally believed to be the route on which Jesus was led to his crucifixion and burial. The route begins in the Muslim Quarter and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter. The route is marked with 14 stations along the way. (For information on the stations see http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/jerusalem-via-dolorosa and http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/ViaDolorosa.html.)
Imagine that we could hear the story from an eyewitness. Simon of Cyrene was there (see Matt. 27:32; Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26). How would he tell the story?
My name is Simon. Yes, I was there. I traveled from my home in Cyrene to Jerusalem for the Passover as I did every year, but this time it was different.
One of the first things you will notice as you enter the Old City of Jerusalem is that the streets are very narrow and some are very steep (and they can be very slippery when it is raining!). Next you will notice the streets are lined with all kinds of shops—pastry shops, falafel stands, clothing stores, fresh food markets, etc.—and that those shops are usually always full of people (especially the ones with the mouthwatering aromas drifting into the streets) . Now, when people from all over descend upon Jerusalem as they did at Passover, the streets become very crowded. And when I say crowded, I mean packed-together-so-that-you-can-barely-move crowded! And on this particular day, I could only shuffle along with the throng of people trying to make their way through the streets. But then, off in the distance, I heard soldiers yelling loudly for everyone to move out of the way! (Where were we supposed to go?) As they came through they were pushing us aside to make room so they could lead their prisoner to his death. I was in the front of the crowd along the narrow street. I was horrified by what I saw. Never had I seen a man so badly beaten—blood flowed down his face as the thorny crown pressed into his head. The skin on his back was torn to bloody shreds from the flogging he had received. The soldiers showed him no pity. They spat on him, mocked him, and pushed him while he tried to carry his cross in his already weakened and barely-able-to-walk state. There were some following him who were wailing and mourning for him. The weight of the cross combined with his physical condition made it impossible for him to stand. As he fell right in front of me I felt the strong hand of a soldier grab my arm, and pulling me from the crowd, he ordered me to carry this man’s cross. Through my tears I saw him. Although his face was covered in blood and sweat I saw him. My eyes met his. They were not the angry eyes one might expect in such a situation. They were eyes full of love and compassion. Yes, they were eyes of one who was suffering terribly, but the way he looked at me…this was no ordinary man. I stooped down and with all of the strength I could find I lifted that cross and carried it for him.
As we reached Golgotha I watched with tears as they crucified this man. And along with the Roman centurion I knew that “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (See Matthew 27:54.)