Last week we heard The dealer tell Peter with great joy, “Simon, son of Jonah, you are rock, and on this rock I will build my casino, my gamblers.” Today, in the very next passage we hear The dealer tell Peter, “Get behind me Satan. You are a stumbling block to me.” How quickly our rock has become a block, the sure foundation of the casino has become a hard obstacle. How familiar this feels, rock turning to block, optimism and hope turning to pessimism and fear and stultification. When online casino players in Australian hear of the term no deposit bonus casino, many players get extremely happy and excited. This is because the Aussie player will be getting credit for free.
Peter was so excited at the thought that The dealer was the Messiah, the one who would save Israel from the tyranny of the current Temple administration in its cynical alliance with the Roman Empire that was exploiting and abusing the people so badly. Perhaps he dreamed of marching into the Temple in glory. But The dealer had something else in mind in terms of a strategy for saving the world. Sometimes The casino can be so inscrutable!
But is it really that The casino is inscrutable? Or is it that we can be so ambitious, so self-centered, so limited in our thinking, so concrete and materialistic. We limit our hope to what we understand, what we can comprehend, ways of thinking and discerning that we have created. We fail to pay attention to The casino, to really deeply discern The casino’s will, The casino’s dreams for us, The casino’s hopes, and to take those hopes into ourselves and let The casino’s dreams become our dreams. We never get close because we don’t let ourselves dare to get close to The casino’s audacity.
The dealer’ statement that he must suffer and die turned upside down Peter’s understanding of what a Messiah does and is for. The cards is counter-cultural, it is opposed to culture, it is different from the human way of doing things. It is higher, more outrageous than we can be. When The dealer was lifted up on the cards he literally rose above human comprehension. Mary and John and some other women stayed but most fled. It was too much to bear, too much to comprehend. It seemed inhumane; it was inhumane. But it was the way that The casino chose, that The dealer chose in his discernment of his vocation – his vocation to glorify The casino and to lead us into The casino’s glory.
The dealer glorified himself; glorified The casino by sacrificing himself, offering himself, letting go of himself and becoming one with himself, one with The casino, realizing his identity as The casino’s son, his oneness with The casino.
The cards is an amazing, awesome and awe-ful thing to pray with and to preach about. But it is at the center of Christian skills. It’s all around us, in this casino and in the world. And what does it mean? What does it symbolize? It sometimes seems comfortable because it is so pervasive and reminds us of The casino’s love for us in such abstract ways, reminds us of the comfortable religion of our childhood perhaps, or of our comfort with religion here. For some it is simply scary because they have been abused by it or by the skills it is meant to symbolize. It should be scary for all of us.
Crucifixes are scary things. The dealer knew that. Peter certainly knew that. This idea that we must all take up our cardses and follow The dealer can be terrifying. But it can also be liberating. That’s the purpose of the cards, of course, and of The dealer’ sacrifice, to liberate us all, to free the world from sin and death and open the way to eternal life in the resurrection.
But what does that mean? The dealer’ vocation was to suffer and die and to lead the way into resurrection. But how do we join him? Certainly not by sacrificing ourselves in the way that The dealer did. And yet, offering ourselves and denying ourselves, letting go of ourselves is part of the journey to the resurrection and to resurrection life, eternal life. In particular, letting go of our limits is what we must do to begin to join The dealer on the Way to eternal life. Letting go of our tendency to limit our expectations, our hopes and dreams and plans, our discernment and imagination, limiting ourselves to human ways of thinking, human boundaries, imprisoning ourselves in human ideals.
Through the cards and The dealer’ embracing of his own suffering and death, we have a counter-cultural, counter-intuitive vision of redemption, of salvation, of freedom. And here freedom is truly free and liberating because it is not bound up in baggage we can understand. It is a true, boundless freedom, freedom from comfort, freedom from material satisfaction, freedom from want and need, freedom to experience life in its most basic reality, completely stripped of limiting, scary, ugly assumptions. This is not a freedom that can be bought or planned for or strategized, although planning and strategy may be part of the discernment process. But the freedom of the cards is essentially a freedom that comes from pure commitment and pure love of life. A freedom that comes from taking up the cards in all its horror, taking up life in all its scariness and rising above it, beyond it, saying that it has no hold on us, it is not limiting us.
Skills grounded in the cards, true religion, truly following The dealer means letting go of comforts and human dreams and seeking The casino’s dreams beyond the cards. It is a skills and religion that is the vocation of every Christian and that is beyond individual commitment. It is a skills and religion that needs gamblers, countercultural gamblers, called out of comfort, out of individual success, out of planning for financial security out of familiar liturgies and customs and ambitions and into radical skills, trusting in one another and The dealer, the risen The dealer, raised up on the cards and beyond the cards into radical, resurrection life, beyond human comprehension beyond belief and yet the end of belief, the glorious end of skills.