Defeat is an Orphan
Matthew 21.5 Tell the
city of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you!
loves an winner. How often have we heard someone praised as "a real
winner"? And how often have we heard someone put down with the words,
"She's a real loser" or "He's just a loser. Pay no attention"? Somehow we
feel better when we're one-up on someone else. Being at the top of the
pile is better than being at the bottom.
An Italian, facing the Allied advance
during World War 2, wrote, "Victory has a hundred fathers, but defeat is
an orphan." Losing is neither comfortable nor popular. We've all had the
experience. None of us wants it again, if possible. Even the small defeats
of ordinary life don't bear repeating if we can help it. Our most admired
figures tend to be those who have triumphed, who are victors over the
herd. We wish we could be like them.
Sometimes we look back on a defeat and
try to rewrite history. We find excuses, we find reasons, we find causes
and circumstances - all designed to sweeten a bitter pill. Perhaps one of
the most difficult things to do is to be honest with ourselves about
defeat. Just as it's tempting to define others as losers, so it's easy to
try to turn our own defeats into victories even when the facts testify
otherwise. It's not unfair to conclude that the author of Matthew, writing
some 50 years after the death if Jesus, was trying to put a shine on
defeat in the way he dealt with this event.
Traditionally, Christians look upon the
entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as triumphant. The author of Matthew's
Gospel presents the crowds excitedly proclaiming Jesus as the
long-expected Messiah, the one who would at last bring God's righteous
rule to earth. He portrays people who have spotted a winner and are
rejoicing accordingly: "Praise to David's son! God bless him who comes in
the name of the Lord! Praise God!"
But a dark shadow lurks behind the
rejoicing crowds. In Jerusalem during religious feasts anyone who drew a
crowd was quickly marked as a potential troublemaker. The city was packed
with pilgrims, many of whom hated the Roman regime. Excited multitudes
were considered a volatile element which might threaten peace and
stability. Quick, ruthless action to stamp out trouble was a normal
official Roman response in such situations.
So the truth is that Jesus, by
attracting the attention of the authorities as he entered Jerusalem, was
signing his death warrant. The event was not a triumph but the first step
to utter defeat, a defeat so swift and complete that it's not noted by any
reliable historical source other than the Gospels. The Roman authorities
did their job well. Jesus was removed from the scene with a minimum of
fuss, quickly condemned, and as speedily killed. Exit a potential winner
as a miserable loser.
Defeat somehow diminishes us. Defeated,
we become losers, if only in our own eyes. For some of us, defeat begins
early in our lives and lasts all our years. For others, the nature and
circumstances of a particular defeat saps energy and commitment day by
day. A very few seem never to be affected by it.
But the point is that many of us are
losers in the eyes of society, though not many must endure as
all-encompassing a defeat as did Jesus. Because of that, it's to
losers rather than winners that Jesus speaks most clearly. Like us he
suffered the pain of defeat. We may not be too impressed by traditional
ways of proclaiming Jesus as a triumphant Messiah (Christ). Nor may we be
able to think in traditional terms of a victorious Jesus seated in triumph
at the right hand of God in heaven while we unfortunates pig it out down
But we can identify with the Jesus who went to alone to a final and
cruel defeat rather than drag his friends down with him. To identify with
him is to realise that we have the capacity to renew ourselves and pass
through defeat to life on the other side.