12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:12-13 (ESV)
From as early an age as I can remember, I’ve been an avid sports fan. With the exceptions of bowling, NASCAR (I know, I know…it’s the fastest growing sport in America now. I’m still not convinced…), and approximately half of everything featured in the recent Sochi Olympics (c’mon Canada…curling, really?), if you name the game, I probably enjoy it, and could offer you a piece or two of random trivia related to it. That said, there are some events in sports that rise above the rest as undeniably supreme. On this “short list” is, without question, what has become affectionately known in our nation as March Madness- the annual NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament.
If you’re not familiar with this God graced event, here’s a bit of background- 68 college basketball teams from all over the nation, large and small, well known and virtually unknown, are thrown into a bracket together and compete to win their sport’s ultimate prize, the national championship. It’s a do-or-die, win-or-go-home format, with no room for error. This is important, because it means that anyone– no matter how obscure or unheralded- has an opportunity to win it all. No name schools like Butler, George Mason, and last year’s underdog darling, Florida Gulf Coast, can rise up and take down the “big boys” of college basketball with grit, determination, and fantastic teamwork. Year after year in March, fans flock to their televisions, computers, and phones to see which “no name” will break through in unlikely victory. (Maybe after reading this blog, next month you will too! I do what I can…)
So what does all this have to do with our recent exploration of Square One, and of how the foundational relationship of a Christ follower to Jesus impacts every other relationship in his or her life? If you believe the Matthew 9 text that heads this post, everything.
Using our March Madness language, Jesus absolutely loved to choose the “underdogs” of His day to follow Him. He routinely took the guys and girls who no one wanted and flipped their lives absolutely upside down for His eternal purpose. Jesus didn’t accept the label “too far gone.” He understood well that He had the power to renew and transform anyone from anywhere to do anything that He called them to do. And over and over again, throughout His earthly ministry, and in the centuries that have followed since, up to today, He has done just that.
Despite knowing this intellectually, we often struggle to see people in the same way; I know I do. We look at certain people- and if we’re being completely honest, certain categories of people- and say to ourselves, “No way. God could never…” We then turn our disbelief into disobedience, and choose not to engage “those people” in relationship, or in Gospel conversation. From our (deceived) perspective, why would we? But if, as Christ followers, we take our cues from Jesus, the question we must begin to ask is, instead, why wouldn’t we? He hasn’t changed; His power to renew and transform hasn’t been diminished over time; and our call to proclaim that power hasn’t and isn’t going away any time soon.
I’m not saying this is anywhere close to easy or comfortable. I’m simply saying that if we truly believe the Gospel of grace, we will find ways to press through that difficulty and pursue intentional Gospel relationships with people who seem, from a worldly perspective, “too far gone.” Chances are, you already have these people in your life- at work, at school, in your neighborhood, perhaps even in your own home. This week, I want to challenge you to suspend your assumptions about what Jesus can’t do and instead ask Him for the ability to believe in what He can do- and, by the way, has done, in you and in me. Allow the transformed perspective that He brings to give you the courage to engage others as He did- with unrestrained love, grace, and Gospel truth. If you do, you may just find yourself caught up in an “underdog story” that March Madness could never touch.