Originally posted April 2, 2012, at koinonia 21c. Republished with permission of the author.
In the news: “Who are the lucky three?” That was a common question on the minds of all of the rest of us Mega Millions losers on Saturday after lottery officials announced that three lottery tickets sold in Kansas, Illinois and Maryland hit the world record-breaking $640 million jackpot.
The morning after the drawing, most Americans were left with dashed fantasies of what they would have done with more than half a billion dollars. In New York City, Sean Flaherty hoped to trade in some of his 12-hour days working as a video game tester to spend more time with his wife and daughter.
“I knew that when I bought the ticket, that I wouldn’t win,” Sean said Saturday. “But I did it anyhow. Because, I don’t know, it would be like Christmas.” His important life’s work testing video games keeps him away from his wife and daughter. And now he has lost the lottery. Sorry Sean.
Did any of you play the Mega Millions Lottery? Certainly, $640 million is a lot of money. Remember when a million was a lot? If you’re not approaching a billion these days, you’re not winning. We assume that more is better, that having the most is the best. I did not play the lottery. Never do.
Maybe we Lutherans should get in the game, though. If all of us bought 10 lottery tickets with the promise that the winning ticket-buyer keeps 10 percent and gives away the rest, we could collectively influence the ELCA.
Apparently there are three winners. I doubt that they are thinking about contributing to the ELCA. How many people spent money to buy tickets, knowing the odds were not in their favor, with the dream that they would win, believing that winning the lottery is a ticket to a better life? Like the man said: It would be like Christmas — because Christmas is all about acquiring more, which is the meaning of life.
There are always winners and always losers. Whether it’s the final four (Kentucky and Kansas) or the Civil War, we divide the world thus. Winners have the power, the money, the record of success. Their stories are told so that they become an example. Sometimes winners in life are beloved; sometimes they are demonized.
No doubt Adolf Hitler succeeded. He ruled Germany and nearly the western world. He successfully established a program to eliminate an entire population of people. Now no one disagrees that Hitler’s atrocities were some of the very worst crimes against humanity. But Hitler was popular and powerful.
When we think about the meaning of success, a successful person, what or whom do you think of?
Are you successful? How we have come to define success and failure, winning and losing, is important. I like how presidents are elected here. For a short time that person seems to garner the support of the people. That changes. He is demonized, maybe even Hitlerized.
The four-year presidents are the least memorable, defeated mid-term, as it is. A new ruler rises and will also fall. Do any of you believe that the next guy is going to be so much better than the one who came before? Does history bear that logic out? Or is it as likely that the next guy will fail us too?
We see the rise and fall of successful people all the time. One day they throw you a parade, the next day they throw you under a bus. Tiger Woods rose and fell. If you’re lucky enough, they will let you make a comeback — because Americans love comeback stories and underdog stories. We love rags to riches stories. We don’t like stories about losers who stay that way. We don’t like tragedies.
Before us is a tragic story in two parts. Part one: Jesus the Rabbi, compassionate Galilean healer and forgiver of sins is the King of the Jews. The crowds shout in his honor: Hosanna in the highest! He is paraded into Jerusalem at Passover on a donkey. He spends a week confronting the powers of the temple court and acting with authority and power, acting like a king. He leads a crusade to purify the temple, to restore the kingdom of God. In so doing, he challenges the political system.
Part two: He is betrayed for money by a friend, convicted by his peers at a mock trial, arrested, beaten, and presented before the crowds. The crowds could spare his life. They could stand behind the man they celebrated last weekend. Instead they shout “Crucify!”
They could rise up as an army to defend him. Instead they abandon him to the real power of Pontius Pilate and the Roman military machine. Their king is led away to the ultimate Roman punishment. He is crucified outside the city during the Passover festival. He dies on a Friday afternoon and is buried in a tomb. Jesus loses. He fails. He dies.
But Christians dare to believe that Jesus’ loss and death is our gain. We dare to believe that his death is sacrificial and protects us from a meaningless death. “Those who lose their lives for my sake will find it.” In a great reversal, a counterintuitive way, Jesus demonstrates the power of failure, the power of losing. Could it be that our definitions of winning and losing, success and failure are reversed?
What if sacrificial giving and a willingness to lay down your life for someone else characterized Christianity? Too often Christianity has wanted to be on the wrong side of the winning/losing equation. We have wanted to be mega church with money and youth and persuasive cultural powers. Not to mention the best music and coffee in town.
Jesus teaches the power of downward mobility. To take the losers seat. To be smallest, least, weakest, oldest, dying. For it is in losing that we find God. Amen.
Find a link to Matthew Lenahan’s blog koinonia 21c at Lutheran Blogs.