Most of our culture will be filling in brackets for the NCAA basketball tournaments this month. People will pour over the rankings of each team and look at the matchups of the first couple of rounds. Many people stave off work to stay home and watch the games. People will enter office and bar pools. After the first round of games the majority of people will already be out of the running and a new “Cinderella” team will be declared. Personally, I love all of it. I love the hype, and all the craziness that occurs. I just wish Holy Week wasn’t right smack dab in the middle of it this year, but there you are.
Holy Week is its own March madness. From Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday Jesus is on a march to the cross. From his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, through the cleansing of the temple, his altercations with the political and religious leaders, to the Last Supper, to Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter we are taken for one crazy ride. In order to understand the context in which Jesus was making this power move it wasn’t much different than our own March Madness. People were flooding into Jerusalem for the Passover. Passover was, is, and will always be the highest holy festival of the Jewish faith. People were there to commemorate their freedom from slavery and hope for liberation from oppression. Their minds were on the power brackets of their time and how God would bring about his promised Kingdom. Everyone was focused on the top seeds, Herodians, Scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and even Rome. Jesus barely made the cut. Jesus was just another, in a long line, of men who stirred up the crowds with his teachings.
Compared to the other players, their size and strength, Jesus and his 12 disciples didn’t look too threatening. Jesus’ March madness is much more than a “Cinderella” story or a David slays Goliath parable. Jesus’ march is the gospel and it is by losing that he wins for all. In our culture the words of Ricky Bobby from “Talladega Nights” ring true, “You’re either first or your last.” No one cares about coming in second. People were appalled when the Canadian hockey player wouldn’t wear her medal. She didn’t play for second, she played for first. In soccer’s World Cup? The team that comes in second removes the medal the second it is draped over their head. No one is proud of second. In sports it has become all about winning at any cost. The issues over doping, paying college players, it’s not about second place it’s all about winning. Jesus turns the idolatry of success on its head. Throughout the gospels Jesus proclaims that, “The first will be last and the last will be first.” Sometimes I don’t think we take him at his word. However, the cross is the fulfillment of these words.
On the cross Jesus becomes a loser for us. Yes, a loser. Jesus stands with and for all those who are last in our society. Jesus becomes one with the poor, sick, old, hungry, grieving, women, children, slaves, gentiles, and all that the winners deem unworthy of love. Jesus becomes one with the last and through his sacrifice the last become first. In Jesus march of madness, he flips all that we value and reveals what God values. God values love, mercy, compassion, empathy, and sacrifice for the sake of others.
In the resurrection Jesus rises victorious and it validates his actions on the cross. Sometimes I think we view the resurrection as canceling out the cross. Resurrection is the exclamation point of the cross. Easter Sunday says to the world that Jesus, his ministry, life, and death are the gospel. What Jesus preached was God’s truth and we are to pick up our own cross and follow him. In other words, we are to be proud losers. Through our solidarity with the outcast we are to minister to all including those who miss the mark.
Jesus’ ministry was to both the first and the last. Jesus stood with those on the fringe of society in the hope of converting those in power. The goal was to show those who wielded power how their injustice affected the least and to bring about a change of heart. We forget that the ultimate goal of the gospel is the conversion of all hearts and the eradication of all sin. The gospel is about turning all people to the way of Jesus.
As we make this maddening march through Lent, Holy Week and Easter keep the Jesus of the gospels in the forefront of your devotions. Listen to how Jesus became a loser to save all. March through Holy Week as we parade in on Palm Sunday, are healed on Wednesday, celebrate the Last Super on Thursday, and stand by the cross on Friday. Easter Sunday has a whole new meaning after experiencing Jesus’ last days. Resurrection means victory in a whole new light when you see it from the losing end of things.