Monday, March 11, 2013

I came close to cheering for my enemies yesterday. Had Michigan upset the Indiana Hoosiers in the final game of Big Ten Conference play, Ohio State would have claimed a share in the title. It would have been our fourth year straight. Bragging rights.

The Hoosiers, however, pulled out a last second win; they took the crown. The Buckeyes share second place with Michigan State Spartans. And I retained my dignity (and salvation) because I elected not to root for the Wolverines. I will not cheer for my enemies.

Raised and breastfed on Scarlet and Gray, I hold to a lifelong commitment--no matter the circumstances, cost, or prize--to root against the enemies up north. I'm doing my part to pass the hatred down to the next generation. Just yesterday, my youngest daughter Margot said "Boo" when she noticed Michigan's blue and maize "M" on a scoreboard. And every time they watch a game, my girls call OSU's opponents "The Bad Guys."
"Boo Michigan! Go Bucks!" says Claire. "Good girl," says Dad.
This is sports at its finest: I've sustained an epic rivalry. I've cultivated enemies for my family to share.

Unfortunately, my fanaticism runs counter the Sermon on the Mount. Sure, we don't rave when Michigan players sustain concussions or blow out their knees. But we mock and laugh and delight in their turnovers, penalties, and generally stupid looking faces. (Buckeye athletes are all handsome.)

Perhaps Jesus didn't live in an era of professional sports, (gladiators were not paid well), but in His day, religion was a sport with various teams and factions. On one side were the Sadducees--nihilists. On another side were the Pharisees--fatalists. On yet another side stood the Essenes--legalists and separatists. And scattered along various borders were fringe religions and imperial cults and polytheists, agnostics, prostitutes, and few false prophets from Ann Arbor.

Jesus's Kingdom of God movement ran against their grain. They opposed Him. But rather than pulling together a prestigious alumni group and handing out scholarships for Blue Chip athletes, Jesus called a ragtag band of disciples to drum up support for the Kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount was their playbook. I

In His final antithesis ("You have heard it said... but I say...) makes it clear: Jesus is not trying to make enemies, but to love them into the Kingdom.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48).

Perfection is not a 12-0 season ("Well done, Urban & co"), or a mad march through NCAA brackets ("Good Luck, Thad & co."). Perfection is praying for the Michigan Wolverines, and sending them flowers after OSU wipes the floor with them.

6th and Final Reflection on Jesus' Antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount