Underdogs

I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?

Jeremiah 32:27

March is a lousy month. It has no holidays (St. Patty’s fans, if you still have to go to school, it’s not a real holiday), generally cold weather, and it’s too far from summer to break out the inflatables.

But March has one redeeming quality: The NCAA tournament.

I love the morning after Selection Sunday. Before us lie large spidery-looking brackets filled with the names of institutions of higher learning that represent “A pretty solid interior defense,” or “Some freshman kid who can really shoot,” or “suspect transition game.” When lovers of the NCAA tournament gaze upon those brackets, they smile, sigh, and reach into their wallets for the two dollars they knew they’d be needing for the office pool.

The dawn of the NCAA tournament means three weekends of half-court miracle shots, triple-teamed buzzer beaters, and quickly closing the browser tabs you’re using to watch the games at work. I’m ready to tip off right now!

This year, as every year, 64 68 teams (I forgot about the Northeast Chattahoochee A&M vs. Wesleyan College of the Breakwaters play-in round) will face off in 67 games to determine the national champion of Division I-A college basketball.

Among those 68 are the teams that are supposed to win. Arizona. Kansas. Michigan State. Kentucky. These are the perennial powers. Rarely seeded below the 4-line, they are the programs with the highest-paid coaches and the most modern arenas. These guys are your odds-on favorites.

But for every Kansas or Duke, there’s a Weber State or a Louisiana-Lafayette. Look for them next to the double-digit number in parentheses. These are the squads that are comprised of high-school unknowns. They play in gymnasiums with theater stages behind the north baskets. Their halide light bulbs don’t fully warm up until five minutes after tipoff.

These teams, the 15 and 16 seeds, don’t have the talent to win. They can’t win. They won’t win. Chalk wins. The Low Seeds are undersized, undermanned, and undercoached. Picking them to win anything will destroy your bracket. They just don’t have a realistic chance.

But you know what? On some occasions, they win anyway. Unrealistic as it sounds, improbable as it may be, sometimes they take down the big boys. This is what March is good for. This is what we live to see: Valparaiso knocking off UCLA, Monmouth taking out North Carolina, the U of Toledo conquering mighty Stanford.

There is something magical about seeing one of these hole-in-the-wall Cinderella teams beat the high and mighties. It invigorates you. It gives you a reason to believe that your team might be able to do the same. It’s the whole system turned on its head. It’s beautiful.

I think that the Christian faith is beautiful for the same reasons. Underdog shepherd David takes out top-ranked Goliath in the first round. Gideon and his goofy band of 300 Israelites eliminate Midian, the Duke University of Iron Age Palestine. Sweet little Jael, overlooked like Villanova overlooks Southwest Missouri Polytech, wins God’s people the victory by bonking Sisera while he sleeps.

Scripture is full of underdog stories. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, these biblical low seeds send the mightiest of God’s opponents home for the season. Just when you think hope is lost, God orchestrates out what Dick Vitale might call an “upset special, baby.”

We can have that kind of hope, too. Many times it would seem that the world has us in a full-court press. We’re down big with the clock is running out.

It’s often at just that time that God does something special. It’s this kind of faithful hope that is described in Proverbs 3, when Solomon urges us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”

When we don’t see a way out, God does. So have hope. Keep your focus on Him. You don’t want to miss out on One Shining Moment.

 

 

 

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