There’s an old encouragement in sports to not let the moment be bigger than you. In other words, if you’re really “good”, you should never find yourself to be overwhelmed, outwitted, or overmatched by the pressure of a given situation. Monday night, before one of the largest Monday Night Football audiences of all time, the NFL replacement officials found themselves not big enough for the moment. Monday, Sept. 24, 2012, they made what some journalists are referring to as the Worst Call Ever.
The whole thing reminded me a bit of the cult classic tv series from 20 years ago called Quantum Leap. In the show, Scott Bakula played a physicist named Dr. Sam Beckett, who found himself trapped in a time traveling experiment. He would leap from moment to moment in recent US history, taking over the body of a character who needed a problem solved in their life. At the end of each episode, Sam would find himself in a situation where he was clearly in over his head. And that segment would close with him trying to comprehend how, despite his ineptitude to perform the task before him, he was going to get out of the given problem without ruining lives. Sam would then sigh and say, “Oh boy.”
Monday night, I was convinced that I was watching the lost Quantum Leap episode.
But I knew better. The reality is that I wasn’t watching an 80s Science Fiction/Drama. Instead, I was watching real life individuals who simply weren’t capable of the task before them – officiating an NFL game. This whole “not capable of the task before you” thing is an interesting biblical theme, by the way, which we’ll get to in a moment.
But before you say I’m being too hard on the referees, let me point out a couple of things. On the now historic last play of the game – a clear interception that was called a touchdown, giving the win to the Seahawks instead of the Packers – there were numerous things that went wrong. 1) There was an obvious missed pass interference call (which the NFL has now admitted). 2) There was an interception by definition of the NFL’s rules. 3) There were two referees who made conflicting calls without conferencing first. 4) There was a lengthy review that could have been used to correct the mistake. This led to nearly every commentator on the planet unanimously agreeing that it almost couldn’t have been worse.
The cynics and non-football people are saying, “Well, these replacement refs are just doing their best.” But that mentality just further illustrates the biblical point I mentioned earlier about individuals not being capable of certain tasks. It highlights a fundamental flaw in our very relativistic society, a culture in which we have been conditioned to think that as long as someone “does their best” or “tries their hardest”, that should be good enough. Many people regularly apply this mentality to their spiritual thoughts as well and assume “As long as one does his/her best to be a good person, there’s no way that God could ever be too upset.” But upon further Scriptural searching, you would find that God’s standard for humanity is not sincere effort, but actual perfection. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48, see also Lev. 19:2)
Additionally, the point here is also not that this is “just a game”, as some have suggested. Everyone has something in their lives which they are passionate about that someone else could easily refer to as “just a __________”. While maintaining perspective is important, it isn’t consistent with a compassionate human spirit to be dismissive or cavalier about the interests of others. For instance, if I tell a little girl whose pet hamster just got squashed, “Stop crying. It’s just a hamster,” I may have an objective point, but I clearly have no subjective sense. Furthermore, according to Vegas reports alone, over 300 million dollars changed hands due to the outcome of that football game being botched by the refs. So the person using the “just a game” argument here probably fails to grasp the multi-billion dollar industry that America’s preferred sport really is.
No. The real issue here is that you have individuals who are inadequate to perform the specific task which they’ve been appointed to do. And if you still think that’s not fair, let me ask you this: If a surgeon was in an accident that rendered his/her hands irreparable, would you still give them the green light to perform brain surgery on you? Think carefully…..what if they promised to try hard? The fact that their accident was unfortunate, again, is not the point. The point is that the surgeon is now physically inadequate to carry out the given task. Ignoring that, lying about that, or trivializing that really only compounds the problem in the long run.
As Americans, we fume with anger when we’re told we’re not good enough. In fact, one could argue that the “I can do anything I put my mind to” spirit of Americans is one of our country’s greatest strengths. There’s probably some truth to that. I could also argue that such a mentality is one of our most dangerous and painful follies, and perhaps one of the reasons we have more anxiety per capita than most countries.
But the Bible teaches us something pretty remarkable about how we’re not fit for a certain task. To a degree, the Bible offends our pride with a little word called “grace”, a word which, by definition, says that we’re not good enough, that we need help from outside ourselves to become right with God.
The Bible teaches the story of humans who were created by God, to worship God, who wanted to become like God by knowing what God knew. However, as humans attempted to sit in the throne built for God alone, they weren’t big enough for the moment and the occasion corrupted them. Since then, mankind has come up with a myriad of methods to reclaim holiness for himself – from mystical knowledge to self-justifying good behavior to attempts to eliminate God and his perfect standards through various sciences and philosophies to moral relativizing. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Prov. 14:12, 16:21) Nothing, however, that man has come up with seems to work. We still fail. We still die. We’re not good enough. We’re not big enough to run our own lives. Embracing that truth is the first dose of medicine that puts our lives back on track.
But one of the reasons that we love great art or great music or great writing or great athletic plays is, in fact, because they suggest to us that there is someone out there greater than us. In fact, all of the “greatness” of the world, in its own way, points to the one who is TRULY great, the one in whom the story of the Bible climaxes. Jesus is the only one who was ever truly big enough for the toughest moments of the world. While his disciples fled (Matt. 26:56), hid (John 20:19), and denied (John 18:27), Jesus went like a courageous lamb unto slaughter. Jesus was the only one big enough to simultaneously look Satan in the eye and endure his heart being ripped out by God the Father (2 Cor. 5:21). If anyone deserves to have his highlights re-run (like we do each Sunday in public worship), it’s Jesus.
Whether you are actually a player on a specific team or it’s simply a team that you cheer for and closely identify with, you generally still refer to that team as “my” team. And when your favorite player makes a great play, you don’t usually feel envious, you feel joyous, because this leads to “our” victory.
On Monday evening, while we watched guys not equipped for their job, we caught a simple reminder that on Calvary, the moment wasn’t too big for our MVP to do his job. Jesus said so:“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)