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Let’s hear it for the underdogs

Kate Barrett | Thursday, October 28, 2010

I couldn’t help but overhear two of my colleagues commiserating the other day about the miserable state of this year’s World Series. Perhaps they miss the presence of their own beloved Phillies and Red Sox, or possibly they feel genuine concern for the financial straits they have predicted for FOX, stuck with two such underwhelming potential champions. And maybe their forecast of doom will prove correct – unless you’re from San Francisco, or you’re one of the few people in Texas who has realized they have a baseball team, weren’t you hoping for a series played by big-name players from big-name teams?

Well I say, let’s hear it for the little guy. The history of Christianity is filled with unexpected people receiving unexpected chances: Imagine Mary, an unwed teenager, selected to bear the Messiah, or a bunch of moderately successful fishermen chosen to share in that Messiah’s life and work. We meet Zacchaeus in this Sunday’s gospel – perhaps the most famous little guy in the gospels, both by stature and reputation. He had a job and apparently quite a bit of money, but the Jewish people despised him for working for the government of the hated Roman occupiers, and they suspected him of embezzling as well. He ended up surprising everybody, as underdogs often do when you simply give them a chance. Jesus — who one might argue spent his life as an underdog himself — seemed to have a sense that Zacchaeus had something in him, some potential for goodness and integrity that everyone else had overlooked. And whether it had been in him all the time or the loving presence of Jesus Christ called it out of him, Zacchaeus rose to the occasion with a burst of generosity that gave him a new and eternal greatness: “Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus tells the grumbling crowd, and 2,000 years later we still read the story of little Zacchaeus in the context of our own salvation history.

Today the Church celebrates the feast of saints Simon and Judas, two of those apostles of Jesus, who remained so unknown that they are usually simply referenced by who they’re not: This Simon is not Simon Peter (the famous Simon), and this Judas (also called Jude or sometimes Thaddeus) is not Judas Iscariot. So these two are barely ever remembered as part of Jesus’ band of apostles, unless you had to memorize their names in grade-school religion class, and yet imagine how their lives were transformed by their participation in Christ’s public ministry. Our tradition holds that Simon and Judas eventually suffered martyrdom for their beliefs and their willingness to preach the message of the risen Jesus Christ “to the ends of the earth.”

Remember what Mary, an unexpected hero if ever there was one, said to Elizabeth regarding her potential status as single-mom-to-be (surely not a desirable demographic in ancient Israel)? “My soul magnifies the Lord … he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant … He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Mary’s Magnificat is truly an anthem for the little guy.

And so for anyone complaining about the two relatively anonymous teams in the World Series, consider just enjoying the opportunity to root for the unexpected participants we find at the top of this year’s heap. The Giants last won it all in 1954, and the Rangers have never — never! — even been to the World Series. Mary, and Zacchaeus, and Simon (not Peter) and even Jesus were all once people no one had heard of. If you do end up watching the games (and FOX sure hopes that plenty of us will) let them remind us again and again that goodness, even greatness, often comes from the most unexpected people and places. We ought to then live with hearts as open as Mary, as bold as Zacchaeus, as generous and loving as Jesus. We never know whose lives might be transformed … including our own.


This week’s Faithpoint is written by Kate Barrett, director of the Emmaus Program. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.