Ordinary 4C – February 3, 2013 – God’s Playbook
To prepare for today’s Super Bowl XLVII (47) we know that both teams studied their playbooks. (I do not think, however, that the second reading today, all about love, will be proclaimed in their locker rooms!) What might happen though? Well, the Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco likes to pass to receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. The Forty Niners’ favor the Pistol offense where quarterback Colin Kaepernick can choose one of three options: hand off the ball, run or pass. It should be an interesting game.
I can tell right now that some of you are not among the 42% who might watch today’s game. After all, this sport (which has replaced baseball as our national pastime) is a most dangerous game. But how about these statistics? Twenty-nine percent of Catholics say God plays a role in determining which team wins a sporting event! And, fifty-six percent of Catholics say God rewards athletes who have faith along with good health and success. 
So here’s a question for us. Does God have a playbook? Does God predestine the outcome of sporting events or anything else we do?
We heard in the first reading that Jeremiah was predestined to be a prophet to the world. God warned him that he would be blitzed for teaching God’s commands but that, in the end, he would survive. For Christians Jeremiah is a prototypical reference to Jesus Christ who many believe also was predestined. Like Jeremiah Jesus was thrown for a loss as he tried to advance God’s commands.  Did either one have the free will to run some play options? Do we?
Many faithful people will argue that because God knows everything there is nothing we can say or do to affect the way things turn out. The results of sporting events is one thing. After 233 people died in the fire in a Santa Maria, Brazil night club one survivor said, “when God says your time is up, it’s up.”
Catholicism does not teach that God is a puppeteer who punishes people with tragedies like famines, storms and war. We will never understand why bad things do happen to good people. As Christians we try to figure out how to contribute to the creative process. We believe that this creative act, initiated by God, is still unfolding; it is not finished. There is a lot of work left for us to do as partners with God.
However, instead of second guessing what play God wants to run we might use our energy and skills to focus on how to deal with whatever opposition comes our way. There is plenty of space on God’s playing field to make decisions that can and do change the course of history. Just think about medical research and the quest to cure diseases. The second reading also reminded us that when we were children we behaved like children. Now that we have grown up we must learn to think and act like an adult church.
However, to think we actually might be in control of our lives is a deceptive perception. All we can do is get on with our lives, doing the best we can, celebrating successes and learning from our mistakes.  Sometimes what is in our playbooks is not adequate and we have to explore other options to be successful or to deal with difficulties.
In today’s gospel we read about a hostile attempt on the life of Jesus. Although he somehow manages to escape the rush of the crowd we wonder why the same people who were impressed by his knowledge tried to run him out of bounds.
Jesus apparently offended some people. He was not continuing the trade of his father, which was the customary thing to do. He was healing non-Judeans (Gentiles) instead of his own kind (Mediterranean Jews). He ignored the attempt of narrow minded and corrupt authorities who wanted to control him and his work.  One could say Jesus ran some play options.
To further infuriate the elders Jesus quoted Isaiah chapter 61. It is a reference to a jubilee year when all debts are cancelled and all oppressed people are freed. Jesus wanted to give people living on the fringes of society more control of their lives and equal access to material goods. This would require accepting the great social vision of the gospel  one that can only come about when everyone on the team cooperates. The power brokers listening to Jesus were not interested.
Jesus challenged the people of his time not to stick to every play in a familiar, but perhaps worn out, playbook. He presented a new game plan. He urged them to learn the fundamentals and then to think for themselves, to become creative problem solvers.
There is no way to know whether God in fact has a playbook. What we do know is that a confident quarterback like Jesus can inspire teamwork and that great teams like Christianity have a tremendous spirit, perhaps even, a holy spirit. When it comes time to play the game of life each player, each one of us, wisely considers all the options in order to bring about a victory. We can do that, can’t we?
1 Public Religion Research Institute, January 29, 2013
2 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary:The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition) pp. 455-458
3 Menaker, Daniel. “Have it Your Way” in the New York Times, July 15, 2012, 20
4 Pilch, John. The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle C (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press) 1997. pp 28-30
5 Brueggeman, Walter. Mandate to Difference: An Invitation to the Contemporary Church (London: Westminster John Knox) 2007, 29-30