Dreaming of the Jack Pot

Webster, MA - 2013

$560 million dollars! That was the jack pot winner of the Powerball Lottery, and someone won the winning ticket yesterday. Imagine winning close to $600 million. What would you do? How would your life change? Would it change for the better? Would it make you happier? Well, obviously many people thought so, because imagine how many people had to buy tickets for the jack pot to reach $560 million? And people dreamed despite the realistic chances to win – buying a ticket gave you a 1 in 175 million chance to win! Yet people hoped, dreamed, and fantasized how they would spend their money.

Numerous studies have been conducted on lottery winners, to discover how winnings have affected the lives of people. One study found that the overall happiness levels of lottery winners spiked when they won, but returned to pre-winning levels after just a few months. In terms of overall happiness, the lottery winners were not significantly happier than the non-winners. The study showed that most people have a set level of happiness and that even after life-changing events, people tend to return to that set point.

We can find plenty of anecdotal stories which tell of winners who wasted all their money within years, who ended in broken relationships, who couldn’t handle the pressure of big money, and who even were murdered by their own family and friends. One fascinating statistic from the National Endowment for Financial Education estimates that as many as 70 percent of Americans who experience a sudden windfall will spend all that money within a few years.

Gambling has become such an accepted, and even normal, part of life for many people. For example, in Massachusetts, 47% of 7th graders, and 75% of high school seniors have played the lottery? Massachusetts sells more than $3 billion in lottery tickets each year, which comes out to $500 for every man, woman and child in the state! And today, 48 states allow some type of legalized gambling! Through the lottery, casinos, and others games of chance, we Americans gamble more than $600 BILLION each year!

As Christians, our Lord challenges us to reflect on every aspect of our lives and strive to live in accordance with His Gospel. “Whoever desires to come after me,” Jesus said, “let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me… Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness… Your Will be done.” To deny ourselves and seek first the Kingdom of God seems quite contrary to dreaming of winning $600 million. To live a life of the cross where we strive to do God’s will seems opposite a life of self-centered ease, pleasure, and early retirement.

As we continue to celebrate the Paschal Season, and today remember the myrrhbearing women who discovered the greatest “jack pot” of history, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the defeat of death itself, it’s important to reorient our bearings in life, and strive for what is eternal and everlasting, not what is fantasy and superficial.

 “With Christ’s Resurrection everything was made new again, everything was restored,” Archbishop Anastasios writes. As Christians, Christ challenges us to look at life from a radically different perspective from the rest of the world. Through the Resurrection, Divine Love has conquered evil! Our Lord Jesus Christ offered Himself, the perfect person, in sacrificial love for the sins of the world. It doesn’t matter that the world rejected him, ridiculed him, humiliated him, persecuted him, and even killed him. His love does not depend on the world, but comes from His very nature. He loves unconditionally and without limit, because He cannot do anything but love. God is love, and He told His disciples, “No greater love has a person than this, to lay down their life for the other.” (Jn 15:13)

Discovering “Agape Love” is the greatest jack pot of life, and the essence of our Christian faith! To experience God with all our soul, heart, mind and strength, to share this divine love with neighbors, friends and even enemies, and to live each day in this love will bring the greatest happiness of life, much more so than even a $600 million lottery ticket!

Throughout the centuries, the saints of the Church have emphasized the “other” is my salvation. The one in need is Christ is disguise. We show our love for God by showing our love for others!” Think about what this love that Christ exemplified on the Cross, this love that we see victorious in the Resurrection, this love that Christ instilled in His followers and commanded us to witness and share with the world around us – think of what this love has to do with lottery tickets?

In the past, the Church and its preachers have condemned gambling from the moralistic perspective – the passion of greed and the danger of an idle and lazy life of ease. Our Christian emphasis, however, should focus on the Good News of God’s love!

The entire gambling mentality – from lotteries to casinos represents the opposite of love. Through gambling, one wins at the expense of others. The bigger we win, the more others have to lose! The thrill of gambling blinds us to our neighbor! When we buy a lottery ticket, in hopes of winning the 600 million dollar lottery, are we thinking of how many people have to lose? We’re not interested in hearing statistics that show how those who can least afford it buy the greatest percentage of lottery tickets. All we dream about is winning!

How many people have to lose for someone to win $600 million? For Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, or Las Vegas or Atlantic City to build casinos which cost BILLIONS of dollars, do we stop to think how many people have to lose to build such luxurious buildings? And now we are planning for our own casinos in Massachusetts, and even Slot Parlors in Worcester! Even if we don’t have a gambling addiction, are we acting as Christian brothers and sisters to those who do, by making gambling so socially acceptable and accessible, by making it seem so attractive and harmless?

Lotteries and casinos and slot parlors have nothing to do with love for the other, but everything to do with love of self and dreams of quick money! We want to dream of winning without thinking of the other. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asked God the age-old question back in the Old Testament. To which the Gospel wholeheartedly answers an affirmative, “YES, we are our brother and our sister’s keeper!”

Of course, we all are free to choose the path we will take – to buy lottery tickets or not, to go to the casinos or not. Regardless of one’s freedom and choice, however, the Church must continue to proclaim the truth of our Lord’s Good News. If we shout with conviction and joy “Christ is Risen!” this victory of the Resurrection of life over death, of good over evil, of love over self-centered fantasies demands a response in our daily lives. Archbishop Anastasios reminds us, “From the Resurrection onwards, the question posed for each one of us has been whether or not to participate in this restoration!”

As serious Orthodox Christians, will we follow our Lord Jesus Christ in a life of self-denial and love? Does the Good News we hear on Sunday impact the way we live out our lives the rest of the week? This includes being careful not to remove our Orthodox faith from the entertainment in which we participate but allowing our faith to inspire and guide the dreams which we dream. In the end, a living faith has everything to do with every aspect of our lives, including our forms of entertainment, as well as with how we understand our relationship with our neighbor!

There is nothing wrong with dreaming about winning the jackpot, but let us always remember what the greatest jackpot in history is – an eternal joy and happiness with our loving Creator and God. And the winning ticket for this jackpot is the ticket of love – loving God first and foremost and loving our neighbor as ourselves! I pray that we all win this jackpot!

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