The idea that Joe Paterno would be forced out of Penn State on moral grounds defies belief.
More than six decades of achievement, an entire adult life committed to the advancement of the core mission of his university, could not withstand the sin of omission committed by Paterno in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case.
It is not the something that Paterno did that brought him to this fate — a firing by phone by Penn State’s board of trustees Wednesday evening. It is the something that he did not do to stop Sandusky.
So begins the piece by Ivan Maisel on ESPN.com about the dramatic and tragic end to Nittany Lions’ coach Joe Paterno’s career. If you are unfamiliar with the specifics of the drama in State College, PA, a former long-time coach (Jerry Sandusky) at Penn State University was arrested over the weekend on charges of child sexual abuse. This arrest set off a chain events that led us to this point. Where a college football giant was felled by a sin of omission, felled by something he did not do.
While the details surrounding the allegations that have come to light in the recent days are gut-wrenchingly disgusting, it would be a mistake to assume we have nothing in common with the characters in this story. There is something we can learn here. This is a cautionary tale. It is a warning to us all.
In moments like these, it is easy to become the very person Jesus warned us will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)
The words of Paul seem relevant here:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:3 ESV, emphasis mine)
It is all grace. Your gifts. Your circumstances. Your skills. Your opportunities. Your righteousness. Whether little or much, it was assigned by God. It would be easy for us to read about the vile acts committed against children and think we are somehow better Jerry Sandusky. I mean, no one I know has ever raped a 10-year-old boy. I know I haven’t. Or what about JoePa? I mean, I’ve never covered up a friend’s criminal act. How about you? Does not our purity in these matters elevate us to higher moral plane?
It is at this point Isaiah bursts on the scene and screams, “Not so fast, my friends!” All our righteous acts are like polluted garments. They are used menstrual rags (Isaiah 64:6). Isaiah confirms what we fear. Even the most moral among us is in the same boat as the most vile. Before a pure and holy God, there is no difference between the man who rapes a child and the man who lusts after a woman on a computer screen. Both are indulging the lusts of their flesh. Both stand condemned of treason against their Creator and King.
Mr. Maisel asks, with almost a sense of incredulity (as if there is no answer), “if we cannot believe that JoePa knew to do what is good and right, than in whom, pray tell, can we believe?” If all we have are men to put our trust, we have none. For all men will fail us. But, may I give you some good news, Mr. Maisel? There is one in whom we can believe. He always knows what is good and right (in fact He defines it). He always does all that is morally required of him and he always abstains from evil. He is perfect. There is no deceit in his mouth (1 Peter 2:22). But he is not simply an example for us. No, he is far more than that. He bore all our impurity. He took the record of debt that stood against us and nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-15). He became sin that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the good news of the Gospel, Mr. Maisel. Jesus is that one in whom you can believe. And there is no other name given under heaven by which men can be saved (Acts 4:12). We can either believe on Jesus and never be disappointed or find ourselves constantly scandalized as our heroes are mercilessly exposed for what they are…deeply flawed shadows of the only hero who can save us.
The Nittany Lions may be cowed and exposed, but the Lion of Judah stands triumphant.