Defeated Lives

“Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already. Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.”
Matthew 10:29, 31 (Common English Bible)
            The Band’s Visit, currently on Broadway, has won several major awards including Best Musical at the 72nd Tony Awards. Music and lyrics by David Yazbek and book by Itamar Moses, the musical is based on the 2007 Israel film of the same title. More a play than a musical, The Band’s Visit is a ninety-minute narrative of a single night in the small, isolated Israel desert town, Bet Hatikva. The Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra – an eight-member ensemble – has accepted an invitation to perform in the cultural center of Petah Tikvah. Difficulty with accents results in bus tickets to the wrong Israeli town. The next bus out of town – and to the band’s intended destination – is not until the next morning. A charismatic woman named Dina, the owner of the local café, offers the band a meal and a place to stay for the night.
            The musical opens silently with words projected on a bare wall: “Sometime ago, some musicians from Egypt came to our town. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.” Those few words powerfully informs the audience that they are now invited into the lives of people who feel defeated; people who long for any sense that they are noticed and that their lives matter. With the arrival of the band from Egypt, a deep journey into brokenness begins – the brokenness of the residents of Bet Hatikva and the brokenness of the members of the band. Dina speaks to the prevailing mood of insignificance that has settled deep into the consciousness of their small town when she addresses the band: “They (Petah Tikvah) have art and culture and music. Here we have my café and apartments.” The citizens of Bet Hatikva long for significance, for the presence of meaning to their meager, small lives.
            Here, in this teaching from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus demonstrates a firm grasp of the fear of living lives that are seemingly unimportant. Though the larger conversation that surrounds this teaching addresses the conflict and persecution the disciples can expect as they do the work of Christ, it does present the view that nothing in the world went unnoticed by Jesus – even something as small as a sparrow falling from the sky. And, “You are worth more than many sparrows.”  Few of us set out to be common. Most of us strive to excellence in our chosen endeavor, to outstrip our competitors and receive recognition that we have added uncommon value to the world. Ambition is, of course, an admirable quality. But, as Christians, we should never lose sight that, as children of God, we are all without distinction in God’s eyes.
            Perhaps the most powerful dynamic of the musical, The Band’s Visit is how circumstances bring people together who hold a low appraisal of themselves. Thrust together for a night, they listen deeply to one another’s brokenness, and care unreservedly for each other. Within that embracing environment of love, healing bubbles forth for each person. People who led defeated lives discover that the simple act of listening, caring, and loving profoundly changes a life of another. That is the Christian source of inspiration – that each person, regardless of social rank or stature or achievement, can be used mightily to make a difference in someone’s life. It is this that provides a more balanced self-appraisal. The musical ends with Dina stepping to center stage, facing the audience intently, and saying, “Sometime ago, some musicians from Egypt came to our town. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.” Don’t believe that for one moment.

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