Wednesday, March 11, 2009

When Losers Become Winners

Today's Word:
Jeremiah 18:18-20 (The people fashion to plot against Jeremiah; the prophet prays to God for protection)
Psalm 31:5-6, 14, 15-16 (Save me, O Lord, in your kindness)
Matthew 20:17-28 (Jesus foretells of the plot to take his life; James and John jockey for position as favored apostles; "the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many")

Over the last couple of television seasons my dear wife and I (dieters that we are) became hooked on the reality series The Biggest Loser. Last night's two-hour show gave me stuff from which to draw parallels to not only today's readings, but to another of the key themes of Lent - sacrifice.

Here we have a reality show that has a lofty goal - weight loss - that requires in most instances a change in lifestyle, a conversion, if you will. The carrot is a big prize; the catch is you've got roughly 20 other people vying for the same prize. At first the competitors try to weed out the weak-willed. At some point, though, it becomes a question of the haves vs. the have-nots. And each week, those whom you see as friendly competitors ending up plotting against someone, sometimes with great regret and sympathy, because the rules of the game say one player has to be eliminated.

In last night's episode, the Black team - who already outrank the Blue team in terms of numbers and endurance levels - win the initial challenge. Their prize: 24 hours of 'luxury', a free pass off-campus to a seaside resort. There are no restrictions. Naturally, the temptation is too good to resist. It is figured that in the 24-hour period the Black team consumes 15 times the calories of the Blue team. Plus, Blue is continuing to work out in the gym, while Black is getting their fill of the spa and other amenities. Further, there is dissentionon the Black team by two cousins who were displaced from their original trainer.

You'd think that with everything going in favor of the Blue team, they'd be a shoe-in at the deciding weigh-in. They thought so too. It's close; but in the end, Black still has the upper hand and wins the battle at the scale. What's more, one member of the Black team has a vote in the elimination round. More plotting.

It's down to the sisters, Mandi and Aubrey. One of them will have to go. The rest have enough alliances and at least two have greater health concerns that have them still in the competition, although mainly in sympathy for the extent of their condition - there's no way they'll make it to the finale. Earlier in the season, half of the contestants were sent home for a 30-day period, and Aubrey was one of them who continued to work out at home while Mandi stayed on campus. It figured that it should be Mandi's turn to go home. Aubrey said she would be willing to go home again, having already done so and knowing what the obstacles were. A counting vote from the Black team could end up a tie, forcing Mandi home.

In the end, Mandi sacrificed herself. She had lots of promise and, apart from a surprise one-pound gain (and nobody can explain why, but that happens in the world of weight loss), could have gone much further in the competition. She could not vote herself off, but cast her vote in such a way that she knew she would be eliminated without having to be ignominiously dumped by the opposing team.

In my sometimes warped sense of humor, Barry Manilow comes to mind as I write.

Oh, Mandi
You came and you gave without taking
But they sent you away
Oh, Mandi...

Mandi is a winner, even though she lost.

The prophet Jeremiah had God's favor and did as He wanted, even though there were plots against his life.

Jesus, plotted against, must give his life and does so as a sacrifice. In the eyes of his contemporaries, he would appear to have lost...
but is more victorious than can possibly be imagined.

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