Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Church Columns

The Winning Ticket

The Lottery Ticket

I thought about him all day yesterday, a Mr. Schenk, a man I have never met and will never meet. He lives in New York and I read about him in the paper yesterday morning. Maybe you read the article. It is about how he won a million dollars in the lottery. He was riding with his good friend, a Mr. Gallo, in his truck and he they were scratching off the tickets. They were laughing as one ticket after another was a losing one. Then came a scratch that exposed the million dollar jackpot.

Mr. Schenk has been diagnosed with lung cancer and, even with the best treatment, is not expected to live much longer than a year. He was diagnosed in December and bought the winning ticket in late January. The article gives a lot of odds – the odds of him winning the lottery, the odds of his getting cancer. There is a big spread concerning the odds of his getting a fatal disease. There is an even bigger spread of his winning a million dollar ticket.

He is now trying to negotiate with the lottery people so that he can get his winnings in one lump sum to help him pay for the cancer treatment, which will be very expensive. There is a lot of red tape. A lump sum has never been given out before and he was told that the chances are one in five that he will get the money. So, he is hoping for the best, hoping that something can be worked out through the legislature. But he was told by an authority that such things take time and Mr. Schenk knows that the odds are that time is not on his side.

Mr. Schenk is struggling with a lot of odds. In one way, he is a real winner. The first check for thirty-four thousand dollars has already arrived. He went to his favorite bar and bought everyone a round of drinks, though he did not tell them that he won a lot of money.

He never married, is childless and has worked at odd jobs.

It is early in the morning here and we just finished praying the psalms. I thought again of Mr. Schenk. He is probably still asleep up in New York. Maybe he will wake up in a little while and plan a day with his friend, Mr. Gallo. I like to envision them taking a ride somewhere, to a place that they both like. In the comfort of their friendship, maybe Mr. Gallo will find the right words to ease the fears that his friend must surely feel these days. Whether or not Mr. Schenk gets the lump sum, the treatment will at best extend his life a few months. Money will buy him a bit of time.

But he has something that never came from a scratched ticket. He may ride today with a friend that money cannot buy. In the quiet of their truck, the best that life can give has arrived and has apparently arrived many times before, in the friendship of Mr. Schenk and Mr. Gallo.

I wonder how many fingers will scratch off lottery tickets this day in the hope of securing a jackpot of cash. There is no way of knowing that number of scratches. Could be in the millions, maybe in the billions. Enough human breath to make several hurricanes will blow the powdery film off countless tickets and nearly all of those who carefully exhale on the surface of their tickets will be losers.

Do you have a friend? Will you be with him or her this day? Maybe you will take a ride somewhere and enjoy the comforts of the gift who is your friend. Life is brief. In that sense, we are all losers. No win can give us years that stretch on forever.

I believe in Jesus. I do not know where Mr. Schenk is as regards his faith. But I do know that he won a winning ticket a long time ago, when he found a friend in Mr. Gallo.

There has been a lot of theological scratching over the centuries as scholars have tried to remove as best they can the obscurities covering the life of Jesus. Who was he and what did he offer? Maybe it was and is something as simple as offering us all friendship with God. Maybe his life and death brought us all to life with God, and with each other, in a way that is best comparable to real human friendship.

I like to think so. It is the deepest hope I have.

I am sorry that time in abundance on this earth is not yours to have, Mr. Schenk. It isn’t anyone’s, in the long run. We all struggle with red tape of all varieties. I hope you get the lump sum, if that is what you wish. I can understand how much you must want that. But I want to understand, too, why I think it does not matter in the big scheme of things. I think that long ago you scratched the surface of the heart of another and found friendship. And in that simple human need, you struck gold.

I wonder if anyone was gazing into the window of your truck when you and Mr. Gallo were side by side and in your hands you held a million dollars. A window is small, but on that day it offered a glimpse of the eternal as its presence, through friendship, appeared as plain as day.

You won, Mr. Schenk. You were given a gift that will never be lost. It rides with you now and will carry you through your illness and to eternal life. You know friendship – God’s ticket to the meaning of life.