He was a surprise winner.
Grits have long been considered a Southern food, but at the 2007 World Grits Eating Championship, the top three finishers were not southerners.
Pat Bertoletti, a cook from Chicago, gobbled his way past all others by gulping down an incredible 21 pounds of grits in 10 minutes. Second place went to a guy from New York who swallowed 20 pounds, and Joey Chestnut, better known for his hot-dog eating championships, took third place.
There are surprise winners with God, too. Jesus once told of two men who went to the temple to pray. One was the favorite, an upstanding and religious man, impressive to all. He was careful to obey the least of laws, he religiously fasted twice a week, and he generously gave a tenth of his income.
The other man was, well, he was a loser. He had betrayed his countrymen to work for the enemy. It was also loudly rumored that he was a cheat, overcharging even his kin to make an extra buck. Folks were surprised to see him at the temple since he had been told he wasn’t welcome there anymore.
The two men prayed. One thought it was a contest. The upstanding man promoted himself, reminding God of how good he was. Meanwhile, it never crossed the loser’s mind to point out his strengths. Knowing he was an outcast loser, he “stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, `God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13).
Interestingly, Jesus said it was the “loser” who went home a winner - "justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (v. 14).
There’s a word of warning in that for anybody “confident of their own righteousness.” If we think we’re a winner because we’ve avoided some sins, because our income is above average, or because of our political party, or because we go to church a lot, Jesus told this story for our benefit.
On the other hand, there is some really good news in this story if we feel like a loser. If we’ll turn to God with that humble attitude, he promises to lift us up, to make us winners.
There was a surprise winner at the Grits Championship. I wonder if there won’t be some surprises when God announces the final winners, too. It could be you!