We all want to be winners. Nobody intentionally wants to be a loser. It is in our genes to be the best… to be superior. All of this is relative, of course. Being a winner. Being a success. It is all a matter of comparison…and we use others as our standard of comparison. In a foot race, there is only one actual winner…and that is because, compared to the other runners, the winner came in first. The second place runner can brag about beating the third place runner. We all want to be “better than” or superior in some way to someone else. Even, the most down and out, lazy, drunken bum will still come up with a comparison that makes him look superior: “Well, at least I don’t beat my wife like Joe does!”
I am not really sure if this hunt for superiority is always bad. Some would classify it as a drive for excellence in life…a search for significance. I won’t disagree with those arguments. All I know is that it is there inside each one of us. I suppose that it is a drive…like many others that can be harnessed for good or for bad.
And there are so many arenas in life where we can play this game. Obviously, no one person can be the “best” in every area of life…and so we choose our areas of specialty. Academia, finances, athletics, words…spoken and written, sexual exploits, business, politics, religion and many other related areas that involve power and influence.
You see, the thing about being a “winner” is that it gives us some sense of security that, at least in some area of life, we have “got our act together”. We feel some degree of control.
One of my favorite quotes I heard from a preacher was this: “As I get older, it is more and more important for me to have all of my ducks in a row”. In other words, “As I get closer to my inevitable departure from this earthly existence, I want to make sure that I am a winner at this game called life.” I say that it is one of my favorite quotes, not because I agree with it, but because it illustrates just the opposite of what Jesus taught.
He taught that all of us will lose. We are all destined for physical death…and that, in a sense, is where we all become the ultimate losers. No matter how much we have won in the various arenas of life, we all will die and none of it will matter even a little bit. Some who have messed up their earthly lives pretty badly and have “hit bottom” probably experience this sense of being a loser long before physical death takes them. But in the end, we all relinquish a perceived sense of control that we never had and yield to the inevitable.
And it is here…in death…in being a loser… that Jesus meets us and gives us life. The fact is that he has already won the victory and given us an indescribable life of immense joy with God. This is truly good news. The not so good news is that we prevent ourselves from enjoying this life…from really entering into it by clinging to our notions of being a winner…of having all of our ducks in a row. For all of our verbalized statements that we agree with Jesus that “the first shall be last, and the last first” or that to be a success in the kingdom of God you have to be a slave of others…for all of these protestations of faith, we still strive all the harder to be winners and to be masters and leaders. Jesus’ story of the rat-bag swindler and the upright religious leader where God considers the crook the “winner” drive us nuts. We have to do some high level religious gymnastics to justify ourselves after reading that one. Or the story of the workers in the vineyard…the scumbags who were lazy and not even out of bed in the morning or even into the afternoon, yet when they went out to “work” for one hour they were given the same as the ones who had worked hard all day. Why do the losers win in God’s eyes?
This is hard core grace…it is a scandal. And the only way we can enjoy this grace is to acknowledge that we haven’t got it together…we are losers. As Robert Farrar Capon says: It is only the last, the lost, the least, the little and the dead that will be embraced by this life of grace in Christ. Again, the good news is that sooner or later, we will all acknowledge that “we lose” and will be flooded with the life of God in Jesus.
And yet…as long as we are able, we will continue on in our striving to be winners.