Brothers and sisters, we have just heard one of the most profound stories we will ever hear in our lives. This passion narrative, which we just heard read, along with the resurrection account of Jesus we will hear next week, form the most important story of our spiritual lives. These few chapters from Luke forge the epicenter of scripture. This story has the power to change us. It has the power to affect the choices we make. It has the power to direct the course of how we are live and ultimately our destiny.
The story of Jesus’ suffering and death is more than a story of a good man who found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time. It is our story. All the roles we play in life are contained in this story: the disciples, Peter, Judas, Pilate, the crazed mob, the chief priests and scribes, the soldiers, the women from Galilee who follow & cry for Jesus, Simon the Cyrene, the thieves on the cross, the centurion. They are all a part of us. Together they make up the story of our lives. They each have something to say to us. They are here to guide us. They ask us how we shall cast our lots with this story.
Casting lots. It’s the story of our lives. It’s what we do everyday to get along. You have a set of dice stapled to your bulletin, I invite you to take them out. Hold them as we meditate on casting lots. It’s important to know what role we will take, for the stakes are high. How we cast our lots determines our lives. Let us look again at how we cast our lots.
Some of us cast our lots like the disciples at the last supper. Even after receiving the cup and the bread they end up in a dispute over who will be regarded as the greatest, now they think Jesus is going to enter political glory. They are clueless about Jesus and the suffering he is about to undergo. They only think of themselves. They are fixated on how they will benefit. For three years they haven’t listened. Can we be just as intent on getting ahead that we forget to listen to Jesus and follow his example?
The game goes on and we come to the role of Judas. Who would consciously cast their lot with him? Judas leaves too much unanswered. Why did he sell out Jesus? Did he want to force Jesus’ hand, so he would take messianic action? Was he disillusioned, realizing Jesus didn’t measure up to the kind of messiah he wanted? Or was he basically a shiftless thief whose run was up? We don’t know what was in his mind. But we do know how he succumbed. Greed ultimately clouded his vision. In the end he sold out Truth.
We succumb too. We compromise our integrity. We prefer to be right that we forget about being righteous. Judas is there, lurking in our hearts, he encourages us to go with what is easy rather than what is right.
If Judas is the one we hate to identify with, Peter is the one we can most relate to. Peter tries. We want to do our best. We can’t imagine caving in. We love the way Peter makes us feel. His enthusiasm carries us along. His bravado makes us feel like we can do anything. When others drop out, we hang in there. But when the heat’s all the way up, and the fingers point, “You are one of them!” What do we say? Who hasn’t been an armchair activist who has found our calendars all booked up? Who hasn’t been at a meeting or party, forced to take a stand and watering down the truth? So we often cast our lots like Peter, denying truest selves out of fear. Many of us never leave this role our entire lives, shedding bitter tears, full of regret.
As the game continues we come to the real movers and shakers – the masters at casting lots. The Chief priests, scribes, Pilate and Herod. They are all over the place. They plot and plan. They are the power brokers, sitting on a heap of influence, money and prestige. They can pull the strings to get what they want.
Not many of us have access to the degree of power of a Pilate. But it is possible to cast our lots like them. We do wield influence, even if its within our home, over our children, family immediate circle of friends and co-workers, or in church. It’s easy to cast our lot to get our way, even if it hurts somebody. When was the last time we lied or feigned innocence? Caved into peer pressure? We play the game, we save our skin, even as we sacrifice the truth.
The game’s not finished. The role that we most often roll is with the mob. We do it to be like everyone else. What the authorities tell us to do or say. In a mob rule we don’t bother to take a real stance because we are caught up with the emotions of the crowd and we don’t have to think. Might makes right. The crowd that adored Jesus on Sunday sentenced him to death on Friday. Whose next on the list? Immigrants? The poor? Prisoners? We cast our lost as a mob when we do not speak up for what we know is right. That is mob rule.
Then there are a few different voices we can cast our lot with. The women, who have no power but to lament, watch and be faithfully present. The dying condemned thief who recognizes Jesus’ goodness and asks to be remembered. The Roman centurion who is a witness, and praises God and proclaims, “Surely this man was innocent.” In the face of despair and pain, they cast different lots on the side of faith and hope. So can we.
Let us not forget that Jesus also casts his lot. When he celebrated the Passover meal and gave the bread and cup, he cast his lot. Overcome with distress in the garden of Gethsemane, he cast his lot. In front of the chief priest and scribes, Pilate and Herod, he cast his lot. Hanging on the cross, scorned, watching the soldiers vying for his clothes, he cast his lot.
Over and over again, when it came to Jesus’ turn, he cast he lot for us. He played true and faithful until the end.
His throw covers us all. He shows us how to play the game differently. We learn to cast for love and healing. We learn to cast like Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus carry the cross, and like the women who didn’t flee but who accompanied Jesus every painful step to Calvary. Like them, we learn to cast our lot with the suffering, because even when words fail, what matters is presence. We learn penitence and peace along with a thief. We learn faith from a pagan military official of an oppressor army.
In this epic tale, as all the characters speak to us, let us fix our ears and hearts on Jesus. That’s what this game is all about. Learning to cast our lot with Jesus who always sides with us, no matter which side we take. Look at your dice again. It is a reminder that Jesus cast his lot for us. At his arrest. On his day of torture and crucifixion. As he lay in the tomb. As he rose through the power of the Holy Spirit, and triumphed over the grave. In all this, Jesus cast his lot for us.
Let us choose this week to cast our lots differently. Now is the time to change. To listen to the story that can change the course of our lives. To recognize in this story the roles we have played, the throws we have cast. To accept the role God wants to play in our lives. God has cast God’s lot with us, in Christ. Now it is our turn, the dice is in our hands. Will we roll with God?
It’s a new game in this ancient, sacred story. When we are ready to make our choice, let us cast our lot with the crucified Risen Lord, and learn, that in him, in all things, we can be victorious. Amen.