5 Lent A – 22 March 2015 – Rebounding in Life
March Madness, a phrase used to describe high school basketball tournaments as early as 1931, has put a full court press on millions of people who, last week, made their prophetic picks. Whatever you may or may not think of the game, which, like all organized sports, is fraught with many shortcomings, March Madness is still here.
Some of you know I like the game of basketball. I would like to tell you why. I have learned to use the game as a metaphor for life. You shoot the ball and hope it goes through the hoop. If it does then you are successful. If it does not go in, you can rebound the ball and shoot again and again until it goes in. Games are won because of coaching, good defense against the opposition and the ability to score points.
Sports psychologists find many similarities between the games we play and the lives we lead. There are not too many games that you can play alone and with a team. Practicing alone you keep shooting until the ball goes in. With teammates the ball is passed around before the shot is taken. Teams who do not rebound their missed shots have to play strong defense to stop whatever and whomever prevents them from getting ahead. A secret to winning is practice, hard work and determination.
The purpose of the readings during Lent is to prepare us for the big game which is celebrated in the feast of Easter. The first readings in this season speak to us about salvation and point ahead to the coach who would show everyone on the team how to win. His name was Jesus from Nazareth.
In today’s passage from Ezekiel we heard about how bones, dried up on a battlefield, were restored to life. It was a reference to the Israelites who were emerging from years of losing seasons. God honored their contracts and stuck with the team that was put together at the beginning of the season.
The second readings throughout Lent speak about our participation on the team and what we have to do to win. There are references to baptism as the way to make the team and the spirit on the team that will propel us to victory. Like it was for coach Jesus, who always practiced what he preached, winning would not be easy. Baptism alone would not be a turning point in the game. More hard work would be required throughout the game. Life is not an easy game to play.
Today’s gospel, if we use our imaginations, draws up another game plan for us. It is a story featuring a player named Lazarus and his teammates, Martha and Mary. As the story goes Lazarus was not playing well, couldn’t score a basket and eventually would be taken out of the game. Coach Jesus was recruited to fix the situation, to help Lazarus get back up on his feet, to give him confidence in his game. Jesus also showed the team the importance of playing together. Life is a team sport.
Not only is Lazarus given a second chance by the coach his teammates are encouraged to get back out on the court. (Remember the disciples are watching all of this happen.) They have to show faith in the coach, trust in his experience and play the game according to plan. The coach was convincing in his pep talk. Jesus said, if you believe in me you will never lose!
Last week Betsy  gave us that wonderful homily about seeing beyond externals, to view the deeper dimensions of life. She spoke of the large scale sculptures of the phoenixes hanging in a New York City cathedral and how you had to take a closer look to see what they were really made of. I was thinking about what she said. The phoenix is a mythological bird that rises up from the ashes. Often shown with a halo it was a popular symbol of resurrected life in early Christianity.
A few weeks ago, when ashes were smeared on our foreheads, we remembered that we are mortal beings. Sometimes, no matter how much we practice, the ball just won’t go into the hoop. Rather than be discouraged and defeated we think of everything the coach taught us about the deeper dimensions of the game of life and how to rise up again like the phoenix, or Lazarus or Jesus himself.
Whichever team you picked to win the women’s or men’s tournaments remember — basketball is just a game. But it is one game that teaches us about shooting the ball with confidence, rebounding with determination and playing good defense with the will to win against all opposition on the courts of life.
1. Betsy Rowe-Manning is the St. Vincent de Paul parish life director.