Sunday, January 22, 2012

Jesus and JoePa

The first point of writing this blog is to make Jesus known.  It's the point of my life, and of any Christian's life.  But as a sports fan, it's easy to look at the passing of a giant such as Joe Paterno and come up with all the cliches that you can think.  I grew up a Buckeyes fan, so there were three legendary coaches that you always thought of when you thought of the current Big Ten: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and Paterno.  Woody died before I could remember, Bo died the day before the 'game of the century' back in 2006 (but I had never seen him coach), and Joe.  For a long time, I never thought I would see the end of his career, let alone the end of his life.

The problem with that for me is two-fold: 1.  I've met this man personally.  2. I personally see the effect, of both the scandal that has muddied his reputation and his subsequent death, on the people I regularly see and minister to.

Problem # 1:  This man wasn't just some legendary coach that I revered.  He's a man that lived maybe 500 feet from me the past few months.  I pass his house at least twice a week walking to Penn State's main campus.  In other words, he wasn't an immovable object, but a fragile person in need of love, just like the rest of us.  He was friendly and kind, the time I met him was when we crossed each others paths right near his house.  He had just been getting home from practice.  I didn't want to disturb him because his wife was just coming out to greet him, but it was he who greeted me, his face lit up to greet a new face.  I passed by just saying hi back, and saying good luck to him.  Though it wasn't much of a meeting, it was a reminder that he wasn't some untouchable hero that I could never be in the presence of, but was simply a man who loved his job, loved the community he was a part of, and cared for his family.

Problem # 2:  It was two days after Heather and my 2nd wedding anniversary when Joe was fired.  A scandal which involves so many people and still has so much hidden claimed many reputations, but being in the trenches was where I saw the real damage.  We talk about the victims of Jerry Sandusky, and how unforgivable it is, and many speak of how Joe was irresponsible, but the fact was the whole situation was much worse than that.  You see, what I saw (and had expected, considering how I reacted to the Jim Tressel scandal), was that many had made an idol of Joe, Penn State Football, and "doing it the honorable way."  Being a part of Penn State and being a part of 'Joe's way' were good things.  The problem was we depended on them to be something they weren't.  Many of us expected Joe to be a savior, rather than expecting him to need a savior.  We escaped to Joe Paternoism, or Penn Stateism, and we're paying the price.  His reputation was dragged through the mud up until the point of his death.  I find it sadly ironic that there were false reports of his death, and then 'resurrection,' only for him to pass around 9:30 this morning for real.  I could talk about the fallenness of the media not being responsible, or the sadness surrounding the community, or even about the extremes of reactions and how both sides are probably going too far.  But that would be missing the point.

The main point is that we looked to put our faith in someone other than Jesus, and neither he or we could stand it.  Ok, I'll admit I never put my faith in Joe.  But I did in Jim Tressel (another head coach I've met, and will always have a high opinion of regardless of the recent scandal).  Others have done it in players, musicians, teams, countries, etc.  and they all have crumbled under the pressure of savior status.  They weren't made for that.  Jesus, on the other hand, was.

"Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart O daughter of Jerusalem!  The LORD has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies.  The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil."  Zephaniah 3:14-15

These verses are staggering, because we are called to sing and rejoice over what God has done for us, and the fact that He has placed Himself in our midst.  However, these next verses are also staggering:

"And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  And many shall stumble on it.  They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken."  Isaiah 8:14-15

Jesus is meant to bring people into a great sanctuary, but He also serves as a stumbling block for those who run after other things as their refuge.  Joe was a legendary football coach, a family man, a friend too many, and supposedly devout in his Catholic faith.  But he was a man.  He was fallible.  Though we don't have all the facts, even if we could be sure that even if he was in the clear from the Sandusky scandal, he was still not meant to be the savior we wanted him to be.  How do we know?  Because he died.  He, on his own, couldn't defeat sin and death.  And whether it be the scandal or his death, many have not just been let down, but crushed and defeated because of the deconstruction of this man.

However, there is tremendous hope in the Gospel of Christ.  Here are a few things that stick out to me:

1.  This whole situation points to the fact that our way of life is broken.  From the sexual abuse victims, to the way Joe Paterno was treated by the Board of Trustees, to the seeming lack of credibility from the internal investigation, there is just so much wrong with the situation.  However, Revelation talks about the fact that in the life to come, there will be no curse.  Sin will be defeated.  There won't be scandals.  There won't be faulty news reports.  Children will not be abused.  Lies won't be covered up.  People won't be let down.  Our true leader and King will lead perfectly.  And we'll have a Savior who is truly infallible.

2.  We can remember the good that Joe did, and see the image of Christ in his life.  He gave of himself to generations of students.  He gave generously to the cause of education.  He lived modestly.  He pursued excellence both on and off the football field.  These all are admirable things, and point to a greater man who gave Himself to his disciples by living with them for three years, gave generously by giving His life for the cause of salvation, lived so modestly that He gave up living in the greatest Kingdom for 33 years so He could live without a place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20), and lived not only excellently but perfectly so that others could be seen as perfect.

3.  We see that Jesus, and not a good male role model, is who we truly need.  Though our Penn State Community should mourn the loss of a great man in Joe, by no means should our lives be lived through "Joe Pa is Penn State," or "what would Joe Pa do?"  We don't need to think through how Joe would make a decision.  We need to invest ourselves into Jesus, and particularly His Word, to fulfill our greatest needs, and to live righteously through Christ.