Writers certainly have a goal of communicating information, but their first concern has to be capturing the readers’ attention. Since approximately 50% of my readers today (mostly the male 50%) are intrigued with the NCAA men’s basketball playoffs, I thought that’s where I’d better start. I apologize to the other 50% of you; I’ll try to make it up to you in future weekly Messenger articles.*
March Madness is what we call it. Every collegiate basketball team has been struggling through thirty to forty games during the four months of their regular season with the dream of making it into the 64-team field for the playoffs. The drama builds, brackets are filled out, “experts” analyze teams and make predictions, odds are established and bets are placed in Vegas, and then the war begins. For three weekends in March, there truly is madness in the air.
The first weekend, teams play each other in four regional USA cities through the first two rounds, and when the smoke has cleared, the 64 original teams have been reduced to the “Sweet Sixteen.” How sweet it is!
These athletes and their coaching staffs have a few days before the next weekend, when the third and fourth rounds take place. On Thursday and Friday, the “Sweet Sixteen” attack each other ferociously, leaving the “Elite Eight” to fight it out on Saturday and Sunday. And then there are four!
Now, the “Final Four” are special. They’ve risen above nervousness, repeated onslaughts by strong opponents, harrowing escapes, disappointments, intimidation, coaches’ angry rants and fatigue. They’ve earned the right to… to … to do it again. On Saturday of the third weekend, the two semi-final games are played, leaving only two finalists standing. They’ll recuperate for a day, as the coaches try to prepare them mentally and emotionally.
Then on Monday night, the two ultimate combatants will stand against each other, waiting for the tipoff. Every once in a while, a March Madness final is a one-sided dud, as one team surges, while the other seems to give up. But more commonly, the final is a real barn-burner that brings out the best in both teams. It’s not unusual for the game to be decided by the last frantic shot. And someone wins; someone always wins. Which means someone always loses. Which means 63 teams always lose. That’s what’s really sad about March Madness: almost everybody loses!
Basketball didn’t invent March Madness. Some of us experience it each year as we stress out over getting the documents together for the April 15 IRS tax-filing deadline. Worrying that we’ve saved enough in the bank to cover the final tax payment can drive us a bit mad.
Those of us who have lived in colder parts of the USA are familiar with the saying, “March goes in like a lion and comes out like a lamb.” During this transition month between winter and spring, the weather can be notoriously unpredictable and crazy. It can drive you a little mad.
You may already have thought about the March Hare character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. He derived his name from the old English description of someone as being “mad as a March hare.” This comes from people observing the odd behavior of male rabbits during breeding season in the spring. March Madness.
You could argue that the idea of March Madness started with Julius Caesar, Emperor of Rome. At the height of his power and influence, a number of Roman senators conspired to assassinate him This took place on the “Ides of March,” which is March 15 on the Roman calendar. Since Caesar had been moving the Roman Empire toward much needed reforms, his killing can be seen as an act of March Madness on the part of his jealous, short-sighted antagonists.
An even more significant episode of March Madness happened about 80 years after Caesar’s death. It was when the world went mad for a couple of weeks during March and shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Some scholars have suggested that the most likely date of the death of Jesus Christ was Friday, April 3, AD 33. That would mean that the increasing hysteria building towards his betrayal and arrest, as recorded by the Gospel writers, all took place during March. God sent his Son to save us, and we rejected him. True March Madness!
But he offers his salvation to us anyway. That means that, in contrast to basketball’s March Madness, where almost everybody loses, in Jesus’ March Madness, everybody has the opportunity to win.
— Pastor George Van Alstine
*I realize this makes some sexist assumptions. The UCLA Women’s team is excellent and has now reached the “Sweet Sixteen” of the women’s playoff. But alas, their next opponent is the University of Connecticut, who haven’t lost since November 14, 2014, a record 109 consecutive victories. An obscene record.