The Scandal of Mercy

August 14, 2009

So I’m not the most likely guy to write the sports-related commentary.  Ideally, we wait for C.J. Mahaney to write about the current athletic news and relate it to the gospel.  Well, CJ seems slow on the take today, so let me relate a conversation I’ve been watching on Facebook.

My brother dropped the news that Michael Vick has signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.  Vick, you may remember, was THE star quarterback in Atlanta before he was convicted of running a dog fighting ring and served 18 months in prison for his crime.  After showing appropriate remorse, he was reinstated a few weeks ago.  The question became “Who would want him?”  Many teams declared no interest.  PETA was ready to pounce on any takers.   He seemed poisonous – who wants to risk the bad press, the fan reaction, the protests?  But three weeks later, Vick is an Eagle.

The response on Facebook started with one friend’s “boo.”  All over the blogs, folks are shaming the Eagles for embracing Vick.  He’s shown his true colors, and he never deserves to play again.  He could never become a role model.  Why would you reward a criminal? The opinions are sharp and unrelenting.

Now remember, Vick has served his sentence.  He has paid the debt society asked him to pay.  He’s not starting for the Eagles – he’s in line behind one of the better QBs in the game, Donovan McNabb.  He has a massive hill to climb to regain a good reputation and respect.  But many would ask that he never play again.  You could fall on either side of the debate, but it has made me consider the way we view mercy and reconciliation.

It is hard for us to see mercy extended to Michael Vick.  His actions (or lack of action) disgust us.  It makes it easier for us to reject him and never see him in public again.  It’s interesting how easy it is to refuse or despise mercy and reconciliation shown to others.  As my cousin wrote, he’s the “scum of the earth.”

But then again, I am the scum of the earth, too.  And I hope you won’t be surprised if I mention that you are, too. The evidence is overwhelming.  Romans 3:10 explains it concisely: “There is none righteous, not even one.”  I find myself walking out of the stands and onto the same playing field as Vick.

So here’s where the Vick story really comes home for me.  Even as we bristle at the offer of reconciliation by the Eagles to offenders like Michael Vick, we tend to take God’s mercy extended to us through Jesus for granted as automatic.  We don’t demand the hard line.  We don’t stagger back and wag our fingers and blog about how wrong it was for God to show compassion on sinners such as us.  In our lives, we have stood before the Creator and Master of us and everything and told Him, “I’m going my own way.  I’m living for my own glory.  You deserve nothing from me.”  We spit in the face of the giver of life, breath, and everything else.

Even though our offense before the one holy God was immensely greater than Vick’s transgression before society, somehow we aren’t surprised or outraged by Jesus coming to the cross to bear the wrath we so greatly deserved. Vick paid his debt in prison.  But through faith, Jesus paid ours in His death.  Even while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8)  And the cross doesn’t just give us a second chance.  It is the beginning of what God will  completely finish.  When God looks to those in Christ, He sees them as Christ – wholly righteous.  Nothing to prove.  Consider that.  Can you feel the weight of it?

Maybe Michael Vick’s situation should invite us all to marvel at the cross. Traitors and enemies have become beloved children at the expense of the offended party. It really is amazing.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. Colossians 2:13-14

P.S., I’m cheering for the Eagles this year.

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