Guest commentary by Gerald Little
March Madness is here. College basketball fans, coaches and players cheer, coach and strive to lead their team to a national championship as at no other time. Upsets abound as favored teams lose to teams who were never given a chance to win. The winners play on in the tournament while the losers pack their bags and go home.
March Madness mirrors life. Life too is a contest where the participants play for keeps. Happiness, sadness, health, sickness, love, hate, prosperity and want all comprise the court of play. At some point the winners and the losers are declared. There are many surprises as to who they are. Moreover we cannot replay this game of life. We are given one shot at it and we have to play our best.
Two thousand years ago there was surprise entry in this contest of life. God entered the Son, Jesus of Nazareth. He in turn assembled a team of walk-ons: the 12. They would play in the Tournament of Life like no other. The Tournament marched a parade through Jerusalem’s streets. Team Jesus marched through the Golden Gate with their mascot: a donkey. The crowds roared and the children ran and danced before Team Jesus. They shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” It was apparent their hearts went out to him as the desired champion; they wanted him to be crowned King of kings. However, other teams watched with disdain and tossed insults. They tried to silence the cheering, but Jesus warned that if they did that then the very stones in the wall along the streets will take up the chant.
Who are those other teams?
First there is Team Sadducee. They’re the top seed. They have two guards by the name of Annas and Caiaphas who are crafty and deceptive. They can go left or right. They have no conviction one way or the other. Their motto is “whatever it takes to win.” They have been known to push, shove and even hack their opponents. Intentional fouls are a key part of their strategy to stay on top.
Second there is Team Pharisee: a formidable opponent who slows the game down to a walk with their deliberative style. They play by the book and often start arguments with the referees and even the fans. The Sabbath ploy is their favorite way to score. They frustrate and antagonize their opponents with their trash talk and continual finger pointing.
Third there is Team Pilate. They are the most unpopular team in the tournament as they bring in big ringers from far-away Rome. Power is their style of play. They do their best to intimidate their opponents. Their motto is “no prisoners.” Just run over the opposition with brute force. No one wants to play them, but they cannot be avoided or dismissed.
Fourth is Team Jesus. They are the upstarts. No one in the tournament took them seriously as a worthy opponent until recently. They have won numerous contests with their style of play called grace. They run the court with a smoothness and efficiency never seen before. They play with kindness. They apologize for fouls and help the opposition up when they fall or are injured. They pray before tipoff and dedicate their games to God. The fans love them and feel they are part of the team too. The critics question whether they are tough enough to win the Tournament of Life.
There are other teams, but these are the seeded ones.
Over the next weeks, the contest for the soul of humanity is on. Key games are played in such arenas as Temple Court, Gethsemane, High Priest Hall, Golgotha and Garden Tomb. The play is hard and rough. Accusations and arguments abound. The crowds are unruly. But, Team Jesus is up to the challenge. With pinpoint play on parables and healings, it seemed that a miracle was unfolding where they could and would win the Tournament of Life.
However, they upset the other teams with their triumph at Temple Court where Jesus hit a game winner against the Moneychangers and sent them packing. Team Sadducee appealed to the Sanhedrin Tournament Council and they rewrote the rules so that Teams Pharisee, Sadducee and Pilate could combine their best players against Team Jesus. They intended to crucify Jesus and run Team Jesus off the court.
On Good Friday it appeared they did just that. They crucified Jesus. He was taken from the court of play and laid in Joseph’s Tomb. Jesus was as good as dead and buried. Consequently the disciples didn’t play well. They turned their faith over; made errant passes in fear; and were ready to toss in the towel before the game was over. They no longer believed they could win.
But with only minutes to go late in the second half, Jesus amazingly returned to the court. No one could believe it. Jesus made a thunderous dunk shattering the backboard in a resurrection move. Team Jesus caught fire again. They started playing as if the odds no longer mattered. Miraculously they won. Just when you thought they were dead and gone, it was resurrection and triumph. It was March Madness. And it still is for those who believe.
The Tournament of the Life is still on. Team Jesus continues to play with its “never say die” resolve. Sometimes it plays under the name of Team Church. They invite others – even you and me – to play with them for divine glory and an eternal crown. They have a jersey for you. Will you play?
Some hesitate saying, “I am too old. I have wasted too many years. It’s too late.” But Jesus says: “I will renew your strength. You will mount up with wings as eagles. You shall run and not be weary.” Others say, “I have made too many bad choices. I have sinned my opportunity away.” Jesus says there is unconditional forgiveness. We do not care what you were, but we care about what you are and can be and do in God’s grace. What more can be said other than “that if you shall confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Join us and play for God’s glory. Don’t let the clock run out before you take to the court in this great truth. Play for the world! Play for others! Play for Jesus Christ!
GERALD LITTLE is the interim pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee, Florida. He lives on the Flint River near Bainbridge, Georgia, with his wife Beverly. He played basketball in college and coached in high school and in international basketball.