Acts 26, Apostle Paul, bad play call, cares of the world, David Tyree, deceitful riches, end zone, eternity, Festus, goal line, greed, incomplete pass, interception, Jermaine Kearse, Jesus, King Agrippa, life and death, lust, Malcolm Butler, Mark 12, Mark 4, Marshawn Lynch, New England Patriots, parable of the sower, pass defense, red zone, Ricardo Lockette, Russell Wilson, Satan, scoring, scribe, Seattle Seahawks, stony ground, strategy, Super Bowl, Super Bowl XLII, Super Bowl XLIX, temptation, The Gospel of Mark, the greatest commandment, The helmet catch, thorns, throw the ball away, throwing into traffic, Tom Brady, touchdown, victory, walking in the flesh, wayside
As a professional tax preparer, I receive a few tax and accounting newsletters. I have already seen an article looking at the Super Bowl from an accountant’s perspective. It’s my turn to look at it from a Christian perspective.
Everyone who watched the game (and not just the commercials or halftime show) knows how the final minutes of game action developed. With a little over two minutes remaining, Tom Brady threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game to put the New England Patriots in the lead, 28-24. For the defending champion Seattle Seahawks, it was do or die.
In less than a minute, Russell Wilson took his team downfield to the New England five yard line with three complete passes for first downs. So sure that they would get the ball in the end zone with 66 seconds remaining, they were actually running down the clock so that after they scored, New England would not have enough time to stage a comeback. Giving the ball to their star running back, Marshawn Lynch, who ran the ball down to the one yard line, they took the clock down to 26 seconds remaining. With only one timeout remaining, Seattle would be able to run the ball twice more, but probably not three times. They were confident that they could gain that final yard in that time, but they had to get a touchdown. A field goal would leave them one point short.
I can think of two times in the New Testament when a person is described as being close to scoring, or in this case to attaining a great spiritual achievement from a Christian perspective. The first example comes from twelfth chapter of Mark’s gospel and the following conversation between Jesus and one of the scribes who had heard others testing Jesus with tricky questions to trap him with His answers.
And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question. – Mark 12:28-34
The second instance comes from the book of Acts. Paul is sharing the gospel with the Roman governor of the province, Festus, King Agrippa and Agrippa’s Jewish wife, Bernice. We come in at the point where Festus interrupts Paul’s discourse.
And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest. Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. – Acts 26:24-29
A Jewish scribe is “not far” from the goal line. King Agrippa has “almost” reached the end zone. Did they get in? Only God knows for sure. No follow up is recorded in the Bible. Getting close is a good preliminary step. But as Paul alludes to, almost isn’t good enough. You have to make it in “altogether”.
On second down and one yard away from the end zone, Seattle coaches decided that instead of two running plays, they would try for three plays. That meant that the first play had to be a pass. It had to be either incomplete or a touchdown. Wilson could not allow himself to get sacked. And he would need to throw the ball where it could not be intercepted if he didn’t have a wide open receiver in position to score the winning touchdown.
Only it didn’t happen that way. Wilson thought he had a receiver open over the middle near the goal line. He thought a teammate had created a situation where a defender would not be able to get to the receiver or the football in time. But he didn’t count on a little-known New England defensive back, Malcolm Butler. Butler thought he had broken up a key pass two plays earlier. Instead, the ball landed on the intended receiver, Jermaine Kearse, who was able to use tremendous concentration to haul in the pass while tumbling on the ground. This time, Butler came through. The rookie free agent read the play perfectly and was able to sidestep the traffic and intercept the ball a split second before the intended receiver, Ricardo Lockette, could catch it. Had he merely broken up the pass, Seattle could have run two more running plays. Instead, New England had the ball and could run off the last 20 seconds to win the Super Bowl.
The sower soweth the word. And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts. And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended. And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful. And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred. – Mark 4:14-20
In the weeks following the game, there was a debate regarding what happened. Who should take the blame? The parable of the sower (as explained by Jesus to His disciples in the Scripture passage above) shows each of the scenarios.
The seed scattered along the wayside can be compared to poor execution by the quarterback. He simply threw the ball in the wrong spot, too far ahead of his pass receiver, to a place where the defense could easily pick it off. If a person is careless with the gospel message that he or she received, it is easily intercepted by Satan. (And please understand that these parallels are not meant to make one team the personification of evil.)
The seed sown on stony ground would be akin to the idea that the reason for the result lies in a great play by New England rather than a mistake by Seattle. A great defensive play persecuted and afflicted Seattle and caused them to stumble (an alternate translation for being offended). Had Butler not read the play correctly, the pass very likely would have been caught for a touchdown. The lack of root in Seattle was not from a lack of trying on their part. Although they got very close, at the end of the day, New England was simply too hard for them to penetrate.
The seed sown among the thorns reminds me of the arguments that poor strategy was to blame:
- The cares of the world lead to fearfulness. Instead of remaining faithful to what brought them to this position, their best option, they overthought the situation and made themselves even more vulnerable.
- The riches of their status as defending champions and the speed with which they progressed downfield deceived the coaches and quarterback into thinking that they could do anything. Not only did they call the extra pass play, they called for a route that brought the intended receiver into the middle of the field instead of toward the sidelines where the quarterback could have more easily thrown the ball out of danger with an incomplete pass. And they ran the play out of a shotgun formation with the only running back quickly going out for a pass, so that New England could concentrate on pass defense. There are some activities which are too tempting for people and before they even realize it, they are walking in the flesh, not in the Spirit. It can be a matter of life and death, eternally speaking.
- Finally there is a matter of lust. Greed is a form of lust. It could be said that the quarterback became greedy, trying to force a throw into traffic when he had good pass protection and had time to see if there was another receiver with fewer defenders near him. (In fact, because Wilson was only looking right, the defensive back on the far left side allowed the running back, Lynch, to get behind him.)
I have two more comparisons to make. Seattle pass receiver, Jermaine Kearse, reminds me of the nameless scribe. Seven years earlier, in Super Bowl XLII (also against New England), David Tyree of the New York Giants made a miraculous catch now known as “The Helmet Catch”. It did not win the game, but it allowed the Giants’ drive towards the game-winning touchdown to continue. Kearse’s catch may have been even more miraculous, it covered one more yard than the pass to Tyree, and having brought the ball to within five yards of the end zone, also appeared to have set up a game-winning touchdown for Seattle. As things turned out, instead of the same fame as accorded Tyree, Kearse will be a mere footnote in the history of the Super Bowl.
(Note: I also refer to David Tyree’s conversion testimony in an earlier blog post. In my post of 12/15/2013, “Playing God”, he appears in the same video as Jim Munroe, the first of two videos that I provide a link to. According to his testimony, instead of being nameless, Tyree’s name is forever written in heaven.)
Russell Wilson and the Seattle coaches who called that pass play on the one yard line remind me of King Agrippa and those who were with him to hear Paul’s gospel message. They were so close to victory. But they dropped the ball. They failed to make it from “close” to “altogether” in the end zone.
What yard line are you on today? Have you reached the end zone? Or are you close? Whether you are close or far away, what will you do with this message? Your response could make an eternal difference.