Lessons from Joe Paterno’s legacy

Yesterday afternoon I heard the sad but inevitable news that Joe Paterno would be retiring at the end of this season. This morning I woke up to the even sadder news that he had been fired last night for the ongoing scandal that is rocking Penn State right now.

 

Joe Pa (as he is affectionately referred to by PSU fans) came to Penn State in 1949 as an assistant coach. My dad was six. In 1966, the year my parents were married, one year after my dad graduated from Penn State, Joe became the head coach of Penn State’s football team. He is the only head coach I have ever known at Penn State.

 

Joe Paterno’s accomplishments are amazing. His longevity is unimaginable. I remember sitting in my Grandpa’s living room with all the men and many of the women of the extended Bailey family when the benched Boz’s Sooners beat the Lions in the Orange Bowl in 1986 ending their undefeated season. I remember the exact same living room with the exact same crowd in a slightly more jovial mood one year later when PSU went undefeated and beat (and intercepted five times!) Vinnie Testaverde’s Hurricanes in the Fiesta Bowl in1987.

 

One USA Today writer said, “Paterno, so revered just a week ago, will never be viewed the same way. This, sadly, is as it should be.”

 

Is that true? Should 46 years of coaching and mentoring and teaching and training young men be tarnished and thrown away because he did not act on information he received beyond reporting it to those in authority over himself and over the school?

 

Is Ms. Brennan right? She is and she isn’t. If she means that because of his super-stardom status or because of the specific heinousness of the allegations Joe Paterno’s reputation is now destroyed, she is wrong. But if she means simply that no amount of good balances out any amount of bad, then she is right.

 

Your Reputation is Ruined
Just because I have never lied to you or to my wife or to my neighbors or to my daughters, it does not alleviate the responsiblilty I have to honesty with my son. If I lie to my son, I cannot point to an otherwise perfect track record of honesty with others and say, “There, that makes up for it.” It does not.

 

Romans 3:10-18 puts it more strongly:
 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Verse 23 summarizes, “All have sinned and are falling short of the glory of God.”

 

If 40 plus years of caring for the needs and futures of young men can be wiped out or at least tarnished by one moment of inaction on behalf of a young man, how much more our own sense of eternal well-being by our own lack of action on others’ behalf?

 

No matter how much good you think you have done or how much bad you think you have avoided your record and reputation are forever tarnished and ruined by even one wrong act or one right act left undone.

 

This is the screaming need of the gospel. That we need a different reputation, a record untarnished. If there is a scale of right and wrong I am in a world of trouble because every time I act against another person; and worse, every time I turn a blind eye to someone in need; I am heaping on the scale weights against me that could never be outweighed by any good I might do even over a lifetime. I can never undo what I’ve done. I can never go back and make right, what I did not do.

 

You Need Another Reputation
Verse 23 of Romans 3 is NOT actually the summary. It’s not even a complete thought. Verse 23 ends with a comma. It’s only half of the thought:

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Romans 3:21-25

 

I don’t just need a decent record or a well-balanced record. As Ms. Brennan rightly points out, even the best record is ruined by one wrong step. I need a perfect record. This is only available if one with a perfect record would exchange records with me. This is the message of the gospel. You have ruined your record. Jesus Christ has come to not only pay the penalty for your record, but to give you His record. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5.21.

 

Unfortunately, the world is telling us all that our hope is in the fact that there are worse people out there than you. We delight to bring Joe Paterno down. We delight to bring Herman Cain down. When things are ugly we cast lots and want to know who’s to blame. Your hope is not that there is someone worse than you. Your hope is that there is Someone better than you, who became a man of no reputation for you, who was despised and rejected for you.

 

Cling to Jesus. Pray for Joe.

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