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12th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C
June 23, 2013
Saint Margaret Parish, Bel Air
Checker Game and Life
By (Rev. Msgr.) Nicholas P. Amato
The Laws of Checkers
One day some young Jewish students were supposed to be studying the Torah, the core religious law in the Hebrew Scriptures.
However, instead of having their noses in their books, the students were playing a game of checkers. Right in the middle of a game, their rabbi unexpectedly walks into the study hall.
The rabbi looks. They look back. The rabbi smiles and opens his mouth. Of course they’re not sure now what to expect.
He tells them there’s no need to feel ashamed. Rather they should always be studying the Law, wherever they may find it…yes, even in a game of checkers.
With that for an opener, he asks the students if they know the three rules of checkers. A bit dumbfounded over not being reprimanded, the students remain silent. And so he begins to state the three rules.
First, you must make only one move at a time. Second, you must only move forward, not backward.
And third, when you reach the last row, then you may move in either direction, forward or backward.
With that, the rabbi leaves the study hall.
After some reflection on the rabbi’s words, the young students realize that the rules of checkers are really spiritual rules for life.
Today, Jesus offers us rules for being his disciples and these parallel the three rules of checkers.
Rule 1: One Move at a Time
Rule 1 in checkers says that we are to make only one move at a time.
In a similar way, Jesus calls us to live taking one step, one square, one move at a time and to do so with mindfulness, that is, with an awareness of the moment.
He doesn’t want us to be distracted by so many things, pulled in so many directions, or leaping forward that we are not focused on either what we are doing or the person we are with.
When Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” we see that he’s more interested on their individual experience of him than he is of what others may be saying. He wants them and wants us to live with an experience of God and a very personal awareness of him.
Who Jesus is to me does require focus and awareness at this moment and that can only come from taking life one step at a time. Yes, keeping it simple, keeping it measured, keeping it moment by moment will help us respond to his question.
Rule 2: Move Only Forward
Rule 2 in checkers says that we are to only move forward, not backward.
Similarly, Jesus calls us to move only forward in the sense of making sure that everything we do contributes to our movement toward God. This is what he means when he calls us to “take up our cross each day and follow him.”
“Taking up our cross” means that we make choices that are consistent with Jesus’ teaching and values. The cross itself may be a good symbol to remind us that its two beams intersecting and thus remind us of a crossroads where we can go one way or the other.
The cross then is a symbol for making decisions that move us forward not backward in following the Lord.
So to “move forward” we decide not to talk negatively about someone who has offended us and instead pray about the situation or talk through our feelings directly with the individual. Or we seek out counseling regarding something from the past that limits our interaction with others at work or at home.
Rule 3: Last/First Row
Finally, Rule 3 in checkers says that when we reach the last row, we can then move in either direction, forward or backward.
Just think of how many of Jesus’ sayings speak of going to the last row. For example, “The last will be first.” “Deny yourself.” “When attending a banquet, take the lower place.” “Whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
In gospel living, as in checkers, there’s something special about the last row. In effect, what is last becomes first. Yes, once you’re last, your checker gets crowned and the last row has become the first or the most important row.
If we know that being last has a way of switching to greatness just as it did for Jesus, we may be more inclined to live as he lived, that is, giving of ourselves for his sake or for the wellbeing of others.
It might simply mean that we spend time with a neighbor who is grieving the loss of her husband. Or it might mean that we volunteer a few hours at the homeless shelter here in Harford County.
The result of our doing these things is that we end up experiencing more and more of that fulfillment or fullness of life that Jesus promises. It is like getting to the last row in checkers where we will be free for all sorts of movement and become fully alive.
Yes, the rules of the simple game of checkers help us to appreciate some of the important rules of discipleship that Jesus gives us today.