March is here, and so is March Madness. I never played basketball as a child, so I’ve never been good enough at understanding the game to really take to it as a television fan. March, though, offers a few opportunities for the casual observer (like me) to take interest. And, like most everyone else, I love the Cinderella story: watching the underdog make its way through the bracket, higher and higher, approaching the improbable, the impossible.
In the Old Testament lesson for today (Deuteronomy 7:6-11), we read about a biblical Cinderella story of sorts. Moses, having gathered the people of Israel together as they prepare to enter the Promised Land, reminds God’s people of what makes them special: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the Lord loves you…” Israel’s chosenness is a testament to God’s love of the underdog. God, it seems, likes it when the 12-seed makes it to the third round.
But that’s not just true for Israel. The chosen people of God were chosen for a purpose—to reveal God’s love for the rest of the world. That means that we, too, are chosen not for our strength or numbers but simply because God loves us. At its most basic level, that’s grace. But, for some reason, this “underdog” expression of God’s “unmerited favor” hits me in a different way—a way that makes God’s love real to me in a way I often overlook.
As a Christian well-steeped in the Protestant tradition of “grace alone,” I understand that God doesn’t love me more or less because I’m a good Christian (i.e., go to church, say my prayers, keep the Commandments). God loves me just because. But in this lesson from Deuteronomy, I discover that God’s love is even richer than that. As anyone who knows me will quickly realize, God has not chosen me because I’m smart or good looking or talented at sports. God has chosen me despite all my imperfections—and not just the spiritual/moral ones. God loves me in part because I am a societal underdog.
As I said to the students in chapel at Holy Cross today, God has not chosen you to be his beloved children because you’re a good student or a nice person or have lots of friends. God has chosen you because he loves you and because, as Moses reminds us, he has made a promise to love us. And that promise has nothing to do with us—it’s pure God, pure grace, pure love.