I remember my high school basketball coach used to get on us and yell, “You’re playing Not-to-Lose… Play to Win!” There were times when we were trying to protect a lead or not make a mistake and we ended up playing tentative. We were simply going through the motions, hoping to not make a mistake and just protect that lead and we end up getting off our game, out of momentum and we end up losing that lead. You see this in sports all the time, whatever the game. We were so caught up with ‘not making a mistake’ that we forgot to do what got us to that point. Our hearts weren’t in it and we lost our passion, and before we knew it, the other team had caught up because we started making the mistakes we were trying not to make. We weren’t playing to win. Wow! I just realized that was 20 years ago! But 2000+ years ago, the readings for today are speaking the same thing – God wants us to play with a full heart. He wants us to go all out in His name. He wants us to “play to win”!
The readings today are all about sinners – the citizens of Nineveh, King David’s Miserere, and the crowds of Jesus’ time. Jonah tells the people of Nineveh that their City and all who dwell in it will be destroyed unless they repent. King David is continuing to repent for his sins in todays psalm, and the people of Jesus’ day – an evil generation – keep asking for signs.
They didn’t know Who was in front of them. They didn’t know what they were about to experience. They kept looking for signs and yet the biggest Sign in the history and future of the world was in front of them. The Ninevites listened to Jonah. With full hearts and loud cries, they fasted, sacrificed and repented to God. God in turn chose to save them. The Ninevites went all out. They played to win!
King David prayed with a full, contrite heart – a heart of full of remorse and guilt. Like all great songwriters, whether it be 2500 years ago or today, King David wrote numerous songs that came deep from the pain and emotion that was in his heart. David was perhaps the greatest songwriter in history, and his psalms live on today. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and praised God in the process, sometimes showing his frustration, yet his love of God, and also his great remorse for what he did. David played to win!
And then there are the crowds in the Gospel today, an “evil generation” as Jesus called them. They were always seeking signs; meanwhile Jesus was leaving signs everywhere. Therefore when they asked for more, He simply said, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah.”
In other words, ‘Do your homework people! Make your game plan! The only sign you need is to read the scriptures and what happened at Nineveh. Seek repentance and love God with all your heart, and you will be saved like the Ninevites. If you don’t, and you continue your ways, well, you do the math. You won’t get any more signs.’
The people weren’t playing to win. They were playing not-to-lose. They were so bent on seeing signs and evidence, that they did not see the signs and evidence that were right in front of them. The failed to believe and have faith in what got them there – the Word of God. They failed to listen to the scriptures and the prophets, and they failed to recognize the Messiah, there in front of them, in the flesh. How many of us do this today?
How many of us, throughout the year, and even throughout Lent just go through the motions? How many of us put our hearts and our passion into our faith? How many of us put the extra effort into our prayer lives and fasting, sacrificing our simple, everyday luxuries every now and then for the good of our soul and others? And how many of us give until it hurts? How many of us confess our sins on a regular basis and receive the special graces of the Sacraments outside of Sunday mornings? It’s called playing to win, folks. How many times do we fail to “play to win”? How many times do we simply try “not-to-lose”?
Lent is a time for us to prepare and train for the upcoming game. We want turn it up and train ourselves in prayer, fasting and charity during these 40 days so that we can withstand the year ahead.
We’re sinners. We’re all going to make mistakes. We are all Ninevites. We are all King David. We are all the crowd. Will you go all out, with all your heart and seek God’s love and forgiveness, and His grace? Will you not care about what other people think, and with sincerity pray to God with a contrite, remorseful heart? Will you play to win? Or will you just go with the crowd, and expect God to do it all for you, and be afraid to open your heart and have faith? Will you simply play not-to-lose? Or, will you live with a full heart in Christ? How will you respond?