FOR LOVE OF A LOSING TEAM

Author: Fr. Mike Byron
September 16, 2018

In the parish from which I recently came, one of the most prominent, faithful, generous and good families was headed by a man whose career is in marketing and sales for the MN Twins.  So I always had to be careful about making disparaging remarks about the team while in church—he and his wife and three excellent young sons were always seated right up in front of the pulpit.  But there was almost always so much to disparage during those years.  I am too new here at Pax to know if I’ll be stepping on anyone’s toes by using the Twins as an analogy for the passion of Jesus Christ, which is why I will go right ahead and do it.  Just this week the Twins took two games out of three from the NY Yankees, maybe the best team in MLB.  And now they’ve lost three, and counting to the K.C. Royals, one of the worst teams and holding last place in our division.  This team is the very model of disappointment this year.  I often think of my friend whose job it is to make this franchise look good, and to attract fans to the games.  He has my sympathy and my respect.

But in what sense can the life of Christian discipleship be likened to the 2018 Twins?  Well I think in at least one way.  Back in April most of us thought that we had a winner on our hands in this team, coming off a surprisingly successful last season.  We were going to contend for the championship again.  Then came May and June and July, and things started to look considerably less rosy.  And by August it was clear that this was going to be a failed season.  Yet there were still dozens of games to play.  Why would the team keep showing up?  And why would the fans do likewise?

For the players the reason was simple:  they made a commitment to the mission, whether it turned out well or not.  And their livelihood is at stake in remaining faithful to that pledge.  For the fans it was different.  Many of them did not keep showing up.  I was at the Yankees game on Tuesday evening and noted that there was plenty of good seating available at Target Field.  But for the fans who did keep coming—and who still do—it’s surely because of a dedication to the Twins.  Not the winning and impressive and playoff Twins.  Just the Twins…the guys from here who try to give their best even late in the season, when it is certain that things won’t end well.  The die hard fans don’t just give up.  (Full disclosure:  I am not a die hard fan, and was the game only because of the kindness and invitation and generosity of one of our parishioners here at Pax).  Lots of people don’t get very passionate about staying with a losing effort.  And that, in effect, is just exactly what Jesus is inviting his followers in to doing in today’s gospel of Mark.  He’s offering an opportunity to team up with one who is—by all earthly appearances—going to present himself as a loser.  A loser for all the right reasons, but a loser nevertheless.

Like the April MN Twins, Jesus had little difficulty in finding crowds who would put faith and high hopes in this wonder-worker from Galilee—this Jesus who was known to be wise and strong and compassionate and charismatic.  This religious man who eventually convinced Peter that he was the Christ of God.

That all remains true, but today in this dramatic shift in the gospel, Jesus drops the other shoe.  He tells us that to follow him—as a member of the team and not just as a fair-weather fan—is to follow a savior who is destined for failure.  The request is to keep showing up for the games even when the prospect of futility in this life is not only possible or likely, but certain.  He’s asking us to be allegiant to the September MN Twins, now that it has become apparent how things will end up.  He says so in today’s scripture and I will be persecuted, resisted, mocked and ultimately killed.  Are you ready for that?  Are we?  The cross?

Why would anybody do that?  Why would disciples continue to follow him along that long road to Jerusalem and Calvary, where the leader, Jesus, has promised that he will be defeated by earthly political and religious powers?  Why sign on to that?  And why agree to have the very same kind of humiliation directed to ourselves, as he also promised would happen to those who are truly faithful?  Who would do that?

Only people who believe that this strange religious quest is the one and only certain way to life eternal, to resurrection…that it’s the only reliable way to survive.  Mere human logic cannot get us to that conclusion.  Only faith can.  And that is why Jesus in today’s gospel is so emphatic to say that to follow him is to require that we begin to see the world and our lives as God does, not as we do.  We call that kind of vision “faith,” and it is a gift from heaven, and not anything that we can work or will ourselves into possessing.


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