34They cast lots to divide his clothing.
For the soldiers, crucifixion was routine. There is only so much pleasure you can get from mocking and taunting and torturing a man. At some point you just sit down to wait for the miserable wretch to be dead so you can return to the barracks or find a bawdy house in the city. To break up the boredom they gamble. Whatever few possessions the condemned man had became the property of his executioners. Clothing is not much to fight over, but at least the gambling adds some entertainment. I wonder what the over/under was for how many hours it would take Jesus to die? We know they were given orders to break their legs so they would die faster, but Jesus was already dead – thus the spear in his side. Just to be sure. Or maybe just for the heck of it; one final desecration.
We have seen that callousness in the photos from Abu Ghraib. We have seen among the Japanese the brutality born of despising your captives. I can’t forget the casual swing of a weapon to shoot a groaning man, as cameras filmed a team of soldiers walking through a building in Iraq. We can become very callous about life.
There are always crude slang terms for the people you hurt, terms that help dehumanize them, make them easier to kill. The sign on the cross, “This is the King of the Judeans,” was not just a sentence; it was a taunt. This is the best king Judeans can come up with. Powerless before Rome. Naked. Broken. Cursed.
So the one thief curses Jesus for not getting them down from the cross. He doesn’t see the man; he sees the title, Messiah, and Messiah’s are supposed to save them from Rome not get crucified. He sees himself. He sees his own pain. He’s angry Jesus isn’t the figure he wants him to be. He’s not much different than the soldiers who just see a terrorist.
When Jesus looks upon the soldiers he sees men, not soldiers, not Romans, not enemies. So, too, when he looks at the thieves. Or the Jerusalem leaders. Or the women watching. So too when he looks at us.
This is hard to do. We tend to see a bum on the street not the person. We tend to see a clerk at the store not the person. I judge them on how quickly they get me through the line or how well they package my groceries; I don’t wonder if their child is sick or their marriage in trouble or their hope fading.
Jesus sees us. He sees the fears and wounds, the hopes and dreams, the joys and pleasures. He sees the secrets borne, the aches hidden, the anxieties haunting our sleep. Jesus sees us as we gather in the pews. Sees us as we pray our silent prayers and linger at the altar rail. He sees us. He sees the person we are.
I cannot imagine how it must have shaken the soldiers to stand under that gaze and hear Jesus say “Father, forgive them.” I can’t imagine what it would be like to have him look in their eyes and see the person. Perhaps the gambling was a distraction, so they could look away from his gaze. How terrible to be loved by one you are hurting.
And maybe we fill our lives with distractions for the same reason.