by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
On Sunday, February 13, Christians were presented with two scenarios, two very different ways of looking at life and living it. On the one hand there was a reading from the sixth chapter of St. Luke’s gospel, where the evangelist renders Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain”. And on the other, there was Super Bowl Sunday, that annual display of conspicuous consumption, known as “America’s Secular Holiday 56″ (as always, designated triumphantly in Roman numerals LVI).
Luke’s version of the Sermon is frequently compared with that found in St. Matthew’s gospel. Together they lay out a vision of life that is totally counterintuitive, countercultural, indeed revolutionary. Matthew has Jesus blessing “the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pure of heart”.
Luke’s rendition of the Sermon is even more radical and ever so appropriate for the Lord’s Day this past weekend, almost completely overtaken among millions in this country, including Christians, by a football game. Hearing Jesus’ words, as reported by Luke, together with a social analysis, would sound something like this. “Woe are you rich” [who have gotten your wealth through a system called capitalism which makes enormous profits on the backs of the poor]. “Woe to you who are filled now” [with every kind of ostentatious and superfluous creature comfort in the midst of worldwide oceans of poverty]. “Woe to you who laugh now” [while Lazaruses languish at your gates].
This “political reading” of the Gospel contrasted with the American Super Bowl is startling.
Some statistics related to that event this year.
- Average price for a seat in SoFi, the Los Angeles football stadium – $5000.
- Price of beer – $17; hot dog – $12; “special century Sushi roll” – $35.
- Estimate of the amount of money wagered on every aspect of “the game” – $7.6 billion.
- Price for 30 seconds of TV advertising during the spectacle – $6.5 million.
- $150,000 for each player on the winning team; $75,000 for losers.
- Super Bowl victors’ rings cost $5000 to $7000 each. (The winners’ rings for SB XLIX: $36,500)
- Cheerleaders receive minimum wage.
Then there is “THE GAME”. Significantly last weekend the sports pages of The Washington Post ran a chilling story about four members of the only undefeated team in NFL history, the 1971 Miami Dolphins. Each died in his ‘60’s or ‘70’s of “chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated blows to the head. That pretty much sums up American football at all its levels, described by phrases like “sacking the quarterback”, “throwing a bomb”, “blitzing”, and “point of attack”. And just to put an exclamation point on this warlike rhetoric, there is the annual flyover of jet fighter planes during the singing of the national anthem – this year celebrating the 75th anniversary of American military air power.
What comes to mind as we reflect on these different ways of looking at life and asking ourselves to which one do we consciously or unconsciously lean is the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. We know the story, its unmistakable lesson and how it challenges us as we think about the Super Bowl. We know that the sin of the rich man was not so much his wealth as the fact that he was consistently “dressed in purple garments and fine linens” and feasted sumptuously each day” while at his door lay Lazarus who “would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.”
On October 2, 1979, St. John Paul II celebrated the Eucharist at Yankee Stadium in New York. Significantly in that quintessential American venue he quoted from this parable, obviously applying it to this country. He said: “We cannot stand by enjoying our own riches and freedom, if, in any place, the Lazaruses of this century stand at our doors.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.