We put our life on the line but the good news is we can’t lose
by Father Joseph Brando
Going ‘all in’ is an expression that recently has become very popular. Its source is found in certain versions of poker in which one player decides he will close all the betting by declaring ‘all in’ and placing every chip he has into the pot. Other players can stay in the game only if they put an equal amount into the pot. Then, the remaining cards are dealt. If the ‘all in’ bettor loses, he becomes bankrupt and the game is over for him. If he wins, he more than doubles his chips.
This metaphor for life also can also be an apt way of looking at what November’s Sunday readings (these are the last four Sundays of the Liturgical Year) are telling us about Jesus’ last days before his death. Accordingly, we will journey through the Old Testament and Gospels readings first; then we’ll go back over the same territory with the guidance of the glorious viewpoint of the Epistle to the Hebrews and Revelation, which make up the second readings of the month.
The Gospel for November’s first Sunday presents the beginning of the last days of Jesus. Palm Sunday already was a memory when the Lord came to the temple area. He was approached by a friendly (according to Mark) scribe who wanted to hear Jesus’ answer to a common question of the day—namely, what is the greatest commandment? There were 613 to choose from divided according to such categories as positive or negative and heavy or light. Naming one as “greatest” would indicate a person’s theology and give a glimpse of his or her inner life. This was important for Mark to enlighten his readers as to what Jesus was thinking at this crucial time. Jesus answered by combining two commandments, one from Numbers and the other from Deuteronomy. The one from Deuteronomy is our first reading. It is the law to love God with everything we have, our heart and soul and strength. It was not only a law, it was a cherished prayer as well. The Shema was prayed three times a day then and nowadays is attached to the door lintel of every pious Jewish family. The commandment that Jesus combined with it is to love your neighbor as yourself.
Mark is making it clear to us that the most important thing in the world, according to Jesus, is our love for God and compassion for neighbor. If Jesus were to go ‘all in,’ and give up his life it would be due to his immense love for his Father and for mankind.
Interestingly, Mark relates that the scribe (whose theology is on the side of the high priests) agreed with the Lord and even said love was superior to sacrifices. Remember, the location of the conversation was at the temple where the high priests were busy sacrificing lambs, and that sacrifice was the essence of the high priestly faith. Jesus gave an answer quite opposed to his training. Yet, the scribe agreed. No wonder Jesus exclaimed that this scribe was not far from the Kingdom of God. He listened well.
Mark has now set up two of the three entities one needs to go ‘all in.’ Jesus’ hand is his infinite love for God and man. His chips are nothing less than his earthly life. The third factor is his motivation. That is covered on the second Sunday of November, where the spotlight shines on a widow. She came to the temple a few days before Passover to offer a precious sacrifice, herself. A widow, then, had no right to inheritance and no source of wealth except what she may have been given during the life of her husband and what her children, if any, would give her. This woman possessed only two small coins that together could hardly buy one last meal. She decides to make one last heroic statement that only God could hear. She would boldly give away her last possessions for the upkeep of the temple, and then die of starvation.
Perhaps she was thinking of the widow who appears in our first reading of the day. Elijah, the prophet who prayed for the famine that brought her to the brink of death, asked her to make him a meal. This would deplete all the food she had left. She courageously made him that meal. She was, as it were, betting her life on the holy man. Something good might happen. It did. The flour and oil she had never ran out until the rains came. Betting on God can be enriching.
So, this widow at the temple tossed her last two coins into one of the receptacles for donations not realizing that Jesus was watching and her unfinished story would be known wherever the Gospels are proclaimed. One sidebar to her story (one which Mark most probably thought about) was that the temple treasury had stacks of gold stored away. We have evidence less than 40 years later that the Romans took about $1 billion from the temple when they sacked Jerusalem.
The widow’s self-sacrifice affected Jesus. He now had an example of what it takes to go ‘all in.’ This is what Jesus had planned to do since he first warned his disciples at Caesarea Philippi. Things were so bad that everyday people were making drastic decisions like the widow’s. Something had to be done to overcome that situation. Jesus had the will to do it.
On the third Sunday of November, the Gospel takes us from Jerusalem all the way to the end of the world. Jesus tells his disciples what he told Pilate: “The Son of Man will come in the clouds with great power and glory.” And then, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, Jesus reveals that he will “gather his elect from the four winds.” In effect, the Son of Man will be the judge of the living and the dead. The Gospel assures us that Jesus will return. Because our Lord and Savior went “all in,” and because one of his reasons for becoming man was “that all may be one,” his victory means our salvation is assured if we follow his divine will—that is if we go “all in” with him.
At this stage, we recognize why November is the month of “All Souls.” Starting with the feasts of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days, the whole month serves as a 30-day remembrance that those who have died are waiting for the final days when their souls and bodies will be reunited and when the Son of Man will return. It is good for us to remember and pray for the dead.
Finally, we come to the Feast of Christ, the King, the final Sunday of the entire liturgical year. One would expect a treatment of the last times and this Sunday delivers. It begins with a passage from Daniel. By the time the Book of Daniel was written, people had figured out that one super power succeeded another in a progression that still continues. In the face of that reality, Daniel prophesies that this cycle will end. Only the last superpower will be the Kingdom of God. The world will end with the coming of a “son of man.” We know that “son of man” is none other than Jesus Christ, raised from the dead. Consolingly, it is He who went “all in” for us. Those who are “in Christ” form the body of this superpower.
The Gospel hearkens back to Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate. Pilate asked Jesus if he were a king. If Jesus answered affirmatively, then the Roman procurator would have jurisdiction and his accusers could make a good case against him. Jesus surprised Pilate. Admitting he was a king, he replied, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” Jesus continued his response to Pilate saying, “I came into this world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” With those words Jesus went “all in.” He rested his case on the truth.
Pilate, an expert on politics and international diplomacy, could only scoff at that statement. His decision to allow Jesus to be executed was based not on the facts, but on political expediency. He did not recognize “truth” as a defense. He lived in a world where lies ruled. Jesus went “all in” on the side of truth.
The Second Readings of the four Sundays in November provide a recapitulation of the drama that unfolded in the Old Testament and Gospel readings. Three of them come from the Letter to the Hebrews, and the final flourish is taken from the first chapter of Revelation. They all emphasize the eternal reality present in Jesus. In effect, Jesus’ willingness to lay down his life cannot but be efficacious. He can’t lose. Death can’t defeat him. Nor can sin. When Jesus goes “all in,” he will always win.
Looking back at the New Testament readings for November, we find a converging road that joins that of the Gospels at the end. During the first three weeks, the Epistle to the Hebrews first presents Jesus as possessing a priesthood that will not pass away. He is a “son” who is made perfect. Then, it shows Jesus exercising his priesthood. In dying on the cross, Jesus did truly what Jewish high priests do symbolically. They go into the Holy of Holies on earth to beg for remission of the sins of the people. Instead, Jesus went to heaven. His action there accomplished salvation. Finally, the epistle goes on to remind us that this remission of sins is not temporary like that of the Old Testament. Jesus is God and as such the forgiveness of sins he accomplished is eternal.
It all comes together on the Feast of Christ, the King. The Church switches to the Book of Revelation for the grand conclusion. Jesus’ going “all in” on Earth ended in victory. The effects of that victory include Jesus becoming “the firstborn of the dead…who has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom.” The Kingdom will triumph in the end. Through the sacramental life of the Church, beginning with Baptism, we are part of that Kingdom.
In poker, the moment a player goes “all in” is dramatic. He can lose everything he has.
In real life, when we go “all in” it can be a tense situation because we’re putting our whole life on the line against the deceptive riches of this world. But the good news of November is that we can’t lose.
Sunday, Nov. 4: Deuteronomy 6:2-6; Psalm 18:2-4, 47, 51; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34
Monday, Nov. 5: Philippians 2:1-4; Psalm 131:1-3; Luke 14:12-14
Tuesday, Nov. 6: Philippians 2:5-11; Psalm 22:26-32; Luke 14:15-24
Wednesday, Nov. 7: Philippians 2:12-18; Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14; Luke 14:25-33
Thursday, Nov. 8: Philippians 3:3-8; Psalm 105:2-7; Luke 15:1-10
Friday, Nov. 9: Feast, Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; Psalm 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9; 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17; John 2:13-22
Saturday, Nov. 10: Memorial, St. Leo the Great, pope, doctor of the Church, Philippians 4:10-19; Psalm 112:1-2, 5-6, 8-9; Luke 16:9-15
Sunday, Nov. 11: 1 Kings 17:10-16; Psalm 146:7-10; Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44
Monday, Nov. 12: Memorial, St. Josaphat, bishop, martyr, Titus 1:1-9; Psalm 24:1-6; Luke 17:1-6
Tuesday, Nov. 13: Memorial, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, virgin, Titus 2:1-8, 11-14; Psalm 37:3-4, 18, 23, 27, 29; Luke 17:7-10
Wednesday, Nov. 14: Titus 3:1-7; Psalm 23:1-6; Luke 17:11-19
Thursday, Nov. 15: Philemon 7-20; Psalm 146:7-10; Luke 17:20-25
Friday, Nov. 16: 2 John 4-9; Psalm 119:1-2, 10-11, 17-18; Luke 17:26-37
Saturday, Nov. 17: Memorial, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, religious, 3 John 5-8; Psalm 112:1-6; Luke 18:1-8
Sunday, Nov. 18: Daniel 12:1-3; Psalm 16:5, 8-11; Hebrews 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32
Monday, Nov. 19: Revelation 1:1-4 and 2:1-5; Psalm 1:1-4, 6; Luke 18:35-43
Tuesday, Nov. 20: Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22; Psalm 15:2-5; Luke 19:1-10
Wednesday, Nov. 21: Memorial, the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Revelation 4:1-11; Psalm 150:1-6; Luke 19:11-28
Thursday, Nov. 22: Memorial, St. Cecilia, virgin, martyr, Revelation 5:1-10; Psalm 149:1-6, 9; Luke 19:41-44; Thanksgiving Day, Sirach 50:22-24; Psalm 145:2-11; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Luke 17:11-19
Friday, Nov. 23: Revelation 10:8-11; Psalm 119:14, 24, 72, 103, 111, 131; Luke 19:45-48
Saturday, Nov. 24: Memorial, St. Andrew Dung-Lac, priest and martyr, and his companions, martyrs, Revelation 11:4-12; Psalm 144:1-2, 9-10; Luke 20:27-40
Sunday, Nov. 25: The Solemnity of Christ the King, Daniel 7:13-14; Psalm 93:1-2, 5; Revelation 1:5-8; John 18:33-37
Monday, Nov. 26: Revelation 14:1-5; Psalm 24:1-6; Luke 21:1-4
Tuesday, Nov. 27: Revelation 14:14-19; Psalm 96:10-13; Luke 21:5-11
Wednesday, Nov. 28: Revelation 15:1-4; Psalm 98:1-3, 7-9; Luke 21:12-19
Thursday, Nov. 29: Revelation 18:1-2, 21-23 and 19:1-3, 9; Psalm 100:1-5; Luke 21:20-28
Friday, Nov. 30: Feast, St. Andrew, apostle, Romans 10:9-18; Psalm 19:2-5; Psalm 19:8-11; Matthew 4:18-22
Saturday, Dec. 1: Revelation 22:1-7; Psalm 95:1-7; Luke 21:34-36
Father Brando is the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Gatlinburg.