32 As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross. (27:31b-32)
In Roman executions, the vertical crucifixion stake was permanently fixed at the place of execution; the condemned man was typically forced to carry the heavy crossbar himself. In this spare rendering of the Way of the Cross, we hear the echo of Jesus’ declaration that everyone – himself included – must carry his own cross (16:24); such is the nature of discipleship. Simon the Cyrene (modern Libya) was pressed into service (cf 5:41) to assist in carrying the cross. In the Matthean narrative he is the only person present at Golgotha whose name we know. That a stranger carries Jesus’ cross (a) emphasizes the abandonment of the disciples and (b) anticipates the coming Gentile mission.