Then they led him out to crucify him. They forced one Simon - a Cyrenean from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus - to carry his cross.
- Mark's gospel
The word Docetae which is best rendered as "Illusionists", first occurs in a letter of Serapion, Bishop of Antioch (190-203) to the Church at Rhossos...As the Docetae objected to the reality of the birth, so from the first they particularly objected to the reality of the passion. Hence the clumsy attempts at substitution of another victim by Basilides and others. According to Basilides, Christ seemed to men to be a man and to have performed miracles. It was not, however, Christ, who suffered but Simon of Cyrenes who was constrained to carry the cross and was mistakenly crucified in Christ's stead. Simon having received Jesus' form, Jesus returned Simon's and thus stood by and laughed. Simon was crucified and Jesus returned to his father.
(Irenaeus, Adv. Char., 1, xxiv)
He seemed to suffer? What, like I seemed to be the father of Alexander and Rufus? That I seemed to plant the seed in their mother and then watched her grow and birth these sons of mine? By God, my sons are not an illusion; they are my heart's content. And this man, his suffering was no illusion.
I will tell you what is an illusion though - the belief that I was strong, some hulking figure that stood out in the crowd, some corn-fed farmboy with an aw, shucks mentality. No, I was a man like any other man. I could do the things necessary for the day, I could accomplish my chores, and care for my wife and sons. Then again, maybe I was different in the sense that I loved living in the country, away from the maddening crowds like the one I found myself in that day. But I was not strong like a god.
No, I believe the centurion's hand found me because I was close-by, a "passer-by" as someone has described me. I have since heard stories of this man's life and it is as if that's how people were folded into his story; they were passing by and he called to them or touched them or healed them. As if they might say I didn't intend on following him, but I did. It was the same with me. I didn't intend on carry the crossbeam that day, but I did.
I have since heard some speak of the crossbeam as metaphor. Be very careful there, for you come dangerously close to the Docetists. As it was no illusion, it was neither a figure of speech. It was a crossbeam. Rough-hewn, heavy, and awkward.
The man never looked at me. He was too busy trying to breathe. There was this moment when I took the crossbeam from his arms. It was not more than a moment, but in that moment I saw his hands. They fumbled. He fumbled the crossbeam to me and I saw need in his hands, they spoke: help me do this. If I've seen that need in the hands of my sons once, I've seen it a hundred times. They would be in the middle of something larger than themselves and come to a point of, well, need and call out to me - Dad, help me with this - and their hands would fumble whatever it was to me. In that moment, I saw my sons in him. This man was someone's son and so I did unto the other as I would have others to do for Alexander and Rufus. Where I came from, that's how you lived, by the ancient rule, helping the one in need as you would help your own.
Sure, I was not going to resist the Roman command, but I was not totally a pawn, I had a choice, a moment of volition. You always have a choice. That's what I used to tell my sons.
He still never looked at me. That was fine. I didn't need some kind of reciprocal glance of gratefulness from him. Where I came from, you didn't help others for something in return; no, you just helped folks.
There was a smell of sweat on the man, but the greater smell was that of blood. The iron-rich odor that's different from an animal's blood. This was man's blood, red and pungent. Illusion? Not on your life.
I will say that there was something almost illusion-like. After I took the crossbeam from him, he continued to walk as if he still carried it. It was not there, obviously, for I held it, but he still walked beneath a weight. His steps were still slow, his muscles still taut, the veins still coursing near the surface. I believe I muttered something like: I have this. But the further we walked, I grew to know as surely as I know the love of my sons, that I did not "have this."