Our culture places a high value on winning. Picture the the New England Patriots after collecting another Super Bowl. Think of the North Carolina Tarheels winning their sixth college basketball championship last week. They are dynasties, storied programs, winning teams.
Americans are obsessed with being number one, on top, basking in the glory of victory. This preoccupation goes far beyond sports.
We are told that there are winners and losers. And all of life is about being a winner. Be wealthy. Be successful. Be the best at all costs. Make the most money. Be the biggest, fastest, and strongest. Have the best house with the perfect family.
In a society of winners, Jesus stands out for his propensity to lose.
Jesus of Nazareth was more or less homeless. After stints in Bethlehem, Egypt, and Nazareth, he wandered Palestine as a vagabond preacher. He possessed no financial wealth. He held no office or position of authority. He had no esteemed education. He espoused an upside-down hierarchy:
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:26-28)
Great is the servant.
First is the slave.
The winners are losers and the losers are winners.
The last are first and the first last.
There are some brands of Christianity that turn Jesus into a champion of fortune and success. One of the problems with this scheme is that you only follow Christ when you’re winning. But you turn back when there’s loss. A religion of convenience and comfort proves shallow when adversity comes.
To follow Jesus is to lose – lose self-obsession and self-interest. To follow Jesus is to give yourself away. The more we lose, the closer we are to Christ. He was always found among the losers, the lowest, and the least.
Jesus Christ is the ultimate loser.
His loss is our gain.
His death is our victory.
No self-interest, only self-sacrifice.
No self-obsession, only self-denial.
This week we follow Christ on a wicked road. Loss of blood. Loss of dignity. Loss of life. This is odd to a world obsessed with winning. We know of no other man who would lose all for us. God bless your Holy Week journey as you follow this Great Loser from cross to victorious crown.
* The first painting above is by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and painter of modern icons. The second is by Hendrick Terbrugghen, a 17th century Dutch painter.