Monday, November 9, 2009

Saints & Saints Fans

Who could have guessed it?

The New Orleans Saints are 8 - 0, one of only two undefeated teams remaining in the NFL halfway through the season.

Honestly, it's not a huge deal to me, other than the novelty of a historically woeful team having an outstanding season, coupled with curiosity about the Saints' chances of carrying this momentum deep into the playoffs.

We'll see how it plays out in the coming weeks.

Flashback to 1989:

I was a sophomore in high school in Oregon, when my dad had to travel to New Orleans for business. This was an exciting trip, as no one in my family had ever been to that part of the country before. My dad asked us boys what we might like him to bring us back from The Big Easy, and it occurred to me that a Saints T-Shirt might be a cool item to have, despite the absence of any allegiance on my part to that team. So, that's what I asked for, and Dad came through with a cool Saints shirt that I wore for no real reason for a few years thereafter.

Fast-Forward to 2009:

Just imagine it: Had I only begun rooting for the Saints way back then, and had I followed their fortunes faithfully for the next twenty years, I would be riding high right now. I would be an original. A die-hard loyal, undeterred by years of futility, enjoying the fruit of years of faithful devotion.

But I didn't do that.

So, if I were to try to claim the Saints now, I would be a fairweather fan, a front-runner, a Johnny-Come-Lately, the total opposite of an original, and not likely to be fully embraced in the ranks of the New Orleans faithful.

I can imagine the sideways glances of the originals, viewing my brand new Reggie Bush jersey with suspicion, especially in the light of my near-total ignorance of Saints history & tradition, my absence of emotional investment in previous wins and losses, and the fact that Archie Manning is just Peyton and Eli's dad to me.

And, I don't think many of us would blame original Saints fans for being hesitant to welcome aboard every Johnny-Come-Lately who will just as likely become a "fan" of some other team later on when it's popular to do so.

How interesting, in the light of our feelings about the late comer, that Jesus would make a point of telling a story that overturns our instincts on this subject.

The workers hired on at the eleventh hour in Jesus' parable in Matthew 20:1-16 were just the kind of late arrivals we so often tend to categorize as lesser members of the group, lacking the full legitimacy of those who have "borne the burden and the heat of the day".

But Jesus, even at the expense of displeasing the "originals", makes the late comer their equal in every way. Worthy of the same reward. Free of any stigma or additional obligation. Not subject to any probationary period. Defended by the Master against any aspersions cast by brothers or sisters.

Do saints truly understand and accept Jesus' stance on the soul who arrives at the eleventh hour?

Even if we understand that Jesus accepts this new saint, do we comprehend what his stance means for us?

Do we get the fact that it is up to us to demonstrate that acceptance? That it's not enough to believe in the abstract that the late arrival is equal to the "original"?

If an eleventh-hour saint is made to feel like a Johnny-Come-Lately, then the body is not following the direction of the head, and the newcomer will not be likely to remain.

Picture yourself in the line receiving wages in Jesus' parable.

To be Christ-like in that scenario would mean celebrating the fact that the eleventh-hour hire received the same pay as you did, after you worked all day and the newcomer worked an hour. Not just celebrating it after the fact, but anticipating it beforehand, welcoming the new worker at the eleventh hour, knowing full well that his reward would equal yours, being glad about it, and expecting nothing different.

Are we there yet?

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