I think it’s easy to read the Bible like it’s a history book. Moses parted the sea, Jesus died on a cross, Columbus sailed across the ocean.
I know it’s more than an account of historic events but I often struggle to see how it applies to my life.
“They” (that collective, scholarly, holy group of people) say that when you read the Bible you should place yourself in the story. So the other day I was doing that while I read the story of Christ’s passion and death in the gospel of Matthew. I was looking for myself in the story. Which character am I? What is God trying to teach me? Well…
I think that I am every character in the story of the passion and death of Christ. And I think that’s the whole point.
Let me explain…
I am an apostle, sleeping in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:40). I’m prone to give in to laziness in the presence of holiness. In the most sacred places, like before Christ in the Eucharist, I allow my flesh to dictate how attentive my soul is. I don’t put up a fight against the pull of distractions or sometimes even sleep.
I am Judas. Jesus has every right to call me both “friend” and “betrayer” barely 30 seconds apart (Matthew 26:46, 50). My heart is fickle and weak and sometimes my commitment to being Jesus’ friend is blown off on the whim of an emotion.
I am Caiaphas, the high priest. I want Jesus to prove Himself to me (Matthew 26:63). I want signs and wonders to know that I really can trust Him. I want my prayers answered in my way. I want concrete proof over humble faith.
I am Peter. Sometimes I deny Jesus (Matthew 26:72). I deny Him in the face of the homeless when I chose to look away. I deny that I know Him when I don’t pray before eating in a restaurant. I deny Him when I am afraid of being judged and condemned by those around me.
I am in the crowd yelling, “crucify Him” (Matthew 27:21-23). And I say it again and again every time I knowingly choose to sin.
I am Barabbas. I am chained in sin and holed up in the prison of my own pride. And instead of suffering the full punishment for my sins for which I am guilty… Christ takes my place (Matthew 27:26). And I often forget to thank Him.
I am Pilate. I want to give up when life is too challenging (Matthew 27:24). I’m ready to wash my hands of Christianity when being a follower of Jesus means pursuing virtue over mediocrity, a life of prayer over a life of pleasure.
I am Simon of Cyrene (Matthew 27:32). I suffer reluctantly. I will take the cross but I won’t seek it. I’ll only take it if it’s been placed on my shoulders… and I don’t love it.
I am a passer-by. These passers-by mocked Jesus while He was hanging on the cross (Matthew 27:30). How quickly they had forgotten all the good works He had done among their cities and towns. When popular opinion about Jesus changed, they followed suite. How quickly I forget the good He’s done for me. In a brief moment of pain all my gratitude is forgotten and replaced by resentment.
I am one of the Roman soldiers (Matthew 27:35). I killed Jesus. My sins were the reason He was nailed to that cross. It was my fault and I know it.
I am the centurion. My eyes are opened to who Jesus is in my life (Matthew 27:54). My heart swells with the truth that God became man and died for me. And this knowledge brings me peace and a resignation to amend my life.
I am one of the women standing by the cross (Matthew 27:55-56). When I’m open to God’s grace, I can be a faithful and constant Christian. In the midst of pain and suffering, I can stay close to the cross. Jesus, my beloved, is my strength and He’s all I need.
I am Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:59). Again, only by God’s grace, I can be selflessly compassionate, putting others’ needs before my own. Moved by God, I will use what He has given me in the service of others. My time, talent, and treasure are all for Him.
I am every character in the story of the passion and death of Christ. And I think that’s the whole point. Why wouldn’t every dimension of the human heart be represented in the greatest story of all time? It only makes sense because the story is timeless. We have to apply it to our lives today because the reality of it’s events matter today.
This isn’t just a story in some history book. It’s the story of your salvation… how God saw the good and the bad in our humanity and He came anyway. He died anyway.
I killed Jesus. But I am also the reason He rose from the dead.
Do you have the courage to see yourself in these characters? Can you blame yourself for the nails in His hands? The stripes in His flesh? Do you realize that your sins killed Him, also? And that because of you, because of His intense, unending love for YOU… He rose again.