I recently saw one in a store – and was glad to see it was still around.
For it has been at least a decade since I have played it with my nephews – even longer since I played it with my brothers and sisters. And I know board games don’t last long in our video-crazed world.
The game? Snakes and Ladders. . . for ages 5 and up: an age-range I comfortable fit into.
In ancient days when I was little, it was called Chutes and Ladders – by either name, it is, of course, a very simple game.
The object of the game is to navigate one’s game piece, according to dice rolls, from the start (the bottom square) to the finish (the top square) helped or hindered by ladders – which can swiftly advance your game piece to a higher square --- or snakes – which can just as swiftly slither you back to the lower squares where you begin your ascent all over again. First to the top – wins.
The game, even as an adult playing with your nephews – provides a source of simple enjoyment and excitement – without having to be plugged into anything. The game is a simple race based on the sheer luck of the roll of the dice.
But, simple as it is, I think the game carries a bit of a moral lesson --- where a player’s progression up the board represents a life journey which is enhanced by virtues (the ladders) and complicated by vices (the snakes).
In the Gospel, the Pharisees may not know about this game of “Snakes and Ladders”, but what they certainly play is a game of “snakes and entrapment.”
That is because the gospel mentions about the Pharisees getting together to “dis” Jesus: dis-miss, dis-credit, dis-qualify him as a spokesman of truth and life. The powerful have set their sights on the powerless. AND à
The Pharisees want Jesus to make a mistake, they want him to make an obvious blunder – then like snakes, they can pounce on him. No wonder John the Baptist once called them “you brood of vipers.”
The Pharisees want to dis Jesus – because they want to get rid of him. This is obvious when on another occasion they asked Jesus to pronounce judgment on an adulterous woman –
Or as we heard last week – to weigh in on the issue about paying taxes to Caesar.
This time around, they wanted to see if Jesus knows his stuff by asking him a seemingly trivial question: Which is the greatest commandment of the Law??
Oh how they thought this would trip Jesus up – there were 613 commandments for him to choose from --- but much like a mother might have a favorite child – but she would never admit it ->
Jesus was not going to fall into their trap – instead of speaking about a SPECIFIC law – he goes to the very heart of all the laws ---
His answer was so simple but yet so profound: you shall love God with your whole being (heart, soul and mind) and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. These are the ends to which the law guides us – the two commandments the law and prophets depend on.
For a question meant to entrap him – Jesus gave an incredible answer, and if the Pharisees were to think about it seriously – it’s an answer that should make them tremble.
Because attached to the law of loving God and loving neighbor – is the word SHALL: it is a serious word, an imperative, a command – and it gives no one any options.
And so without exposing them outright – Jesus was indirectly asking the Pharisees: if what they were doing (not only to him – but to those they were supposed to be helping) was it being done out of love for God – and out of love for their neighbor ---
or out of love for themselves --- and their way of doing things -- and the power they so desperately wanted to hold on to. . . ??
Yes, if the Pharisees thought about it – they would have trembled. Because they were like snakes, like vipers, waiting to swallow up Jesus if he fumbled – and in turn, all those who fell short of keeping those 613 commandments. Which, of course, was everyone --- including themselves.
Yet Jesus did not play into their little snake games. Rather Jesus held out to them a ladder – a ladder of love – to help them climb from their ulterior motives and their evil intents – to the level of the commandment of love.
So Jesus shows us how to turn a bad situation into an opportunity to love and be accepting. Jesus turned the game of vice into a teaching of virtue – and he expects us to do the same.
Because there are snakes of evil that we all can give into ---- and we can be swallowed up by the vices around us. Or as Jesus did --- we can hold out the ladder of love. And with the ladders of love, we can climb out of our fears and insecurities – and avoid the vices, the snakes, waiting to swallow us up.
So where are these ladders of love, and how are we going to climb them and offer them to others?
These could be some examples:
As we know, people are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. We can either slither our way down and respond in the same way--- or climb the ladder of virtue and forgive them and move on.
If we are kind, people may accuse us of being selfish and having ulterior motives. We should be kind anyway.
If we are successful, we will win some false friends and some true enemies. We should strive to succeed anyway.
If we are honest and open, some people may cheat us and take advantage of us. So we should be honest and open anyway.
What we spend years building up, someone can destroy overnight. We should build anyway.
If we find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good we do today, people will forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.
When we give the world our best --- it may never be enough. We should give the world the best we’ve got anyway.
So we, as God’s chosen, just have to keep climbing those ladders of love so that as we climb, we become more like Christ. Love God: we all our hearts, minds and souls. And love our neighbor as ourselves. And so the Gospel story continues – with us. . .
Moments in time...