An Old Man Pushing a Cart up a Hill

by the Rev. Paul McLain


Near the end of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2009, we all got up at 5 o’clock one morning to walk the stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa. It is the old street in Jerusalem that is remembered as the path that Jesus took to his crucifixion. Via Dolorosa is Latin for the “way of suffering.” The reason we got up so early is that the street becomes crowded and busy later in the day because it is at the center of the marketplace of the Old City of Jerusalem. We wanted time and space to pray, offer a devotional, and sing an anthem at each station.


There was still daily marketplace activity going on even at that early hour. People were carrying goods and setting up their shops, much like the activities that would have been taking place as Jesus made his walk with the cross on the Via Dolorosa. We pilgrims took turns carrying a large olive wood cross that was still much smaller and less burdensome than the cross Jesus carried.


At the fifth station, I was handed the cross to carry. Along the way to the next station, we encountered a very old Palestinian man who was pushing a heavy cart up a hilly cross street. His face was wrinkled and weather-beaten, and he grimaced and groaned as he pushed the cart with all his might to try and get it up the hill. And when I saw him, there was an impulse within me to lay down the cross, leave the group, and go help this old man push this cart up the hill. Several of the pilgrims later shared that they, too, saw this man and felt the same impulse. But we had all been instructed to stay with the group and stay in the moment, so we didn’t go help him. Looking back, I regret that I didn’t ‘color outside the lines,’ put down the cross, and go and push the cart. The old man, after much effort, did get his cart up the hill all by himself. When I think back on our walk that day, the image of his grimaced face and the sound of his groan come back to me vividly.


A number of years ago, there was a television show called ‘Joan of Arcadia.’  It was about a teenage girl who encountered God in the form of different human beings, ranging from a garbage man to a little girl ballerina. The show began with the song, ‘What if God was one of us? Just a stranger on a bus.’


In Jesus, we know that God was, is, and always will be one of us. Jesus is God entering our humanity. He feels real pain and he grimaces, groans, and struggles with his and our very real burdens. I can only imagine all the suffering he has felt during this past year of sorrows. Jesus does carry our burdens, and challenges us to carry and lift up the burdens of others.


I will always remember who God revealed to me on the Via Dolorosa – an old man pushing a cart up a hill.

17 thoughts on “An Old Man Pushing a Cart up a Hill”

  1. Paul, I really enjoyed this. Thank you. We’ve all had those regrets, haven’t we? There are certainly several that I carry around in my head.

    1. Thanks, Wendy. Yes, we do have those regrets but there are always plenty of more carts to help push. Glad you enjoyed the post. Blessed Good Friday and Happy Easter to you and Deacon Jerry! Paul

  2. Thanks for sharing this lovely story. I am considering a pilgrimage I spring, 2022. After Easter, if you have a few ideas about your pilgrimage, I would be grateful. I am a former Calvary member living in Pensacola. Thanks Paul.

    1. Helen, sorry to be so late in responding. Glad the blog post was meaningful to you and I’m delighted to hear you are considering a pilgrimage. I did my pilgrimage to the Holy Land through St. George’s College in Jerusalem. I highly recommend them for the Christian/Anglican perspective they bring to the sites, as well as the current situation in Israel/Palestine. Their website is: https://www.saintgeorgescollegejerusalem.com. So glad you have reconnected with Calvary through our online presence. Let me know if you would like to visit over the phone or Zoom sometime about pilgrimage. Blessings, Paul (email: pmclain@calvarymemphis.org)

  3. Paul, this was an inspiring story. It brought back memories for me during my visit to the Holy Land. I remember standing in the very spot where Jesus stood when he said the spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor. I pray that your story will always encourage you to help others in need.

    1. Thanks, Colenzo! Glad this story was meaningful to you. My and Ruthie’s love to you and LaVerne! Blessings, Paul

  4. Father Paul:

    I like your story as well. Everyone who has been to the Holy Land has seen the same kind of thing. I helped several old ladies (myself among them) carry or push impossible loads. I think that it irritated some fellow pilgrims.

    My fist day in Old Jerusalem the noon prayer bells rang. The man in front of me threw down his prayer rug.. I tripped over him and was on top of him. He was — go figure — angry. I had nothing to do but for looking him in his eyes. He relaxed. I joined him in prayer. We hugged and wept afterward.

    I had difficulty finding my pilgrim companions.

    1. Roger, glad my story brought back memories of your time in Old Jerusalem. Thanks for sharing your story. Blessings, Paul

    1. Laurel, it’s great to hear from you! Glad the blog post was meaningful to you. Happy Eastertide! Blessings, Paul

  5. Paul, thank you for sharing this story. It is a reminder that the things done and the things left undone keep us reflecting and growing.

    1. Kate, sorry to be so late in responding. Glad this story resonated with you. Love and Blessings, Paul

    1. Margaret, sorry to be so late in responding. I agree that we should notice more and respond in the moment to the voice inside us. Blessings, Paul

  6. Margaret, sorry to be so late in responding. And I agree that we all should notice more and respond in the moment to the voice inside us. Blessings, Paul

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *