March 8 – Joe Flacco, Hugo Chavez and the Gospel

Like many Americans, I have given up on a printed newspaper, but it doesn’t mean I’m not a news junky. All the worse as Google News takes me to headlines around the world every day. I’ve been thinking especially about two headlines from the past week. First, this from the Washington Post on Monday, “Joe Flacco says new contract was about respect, not money.” And then this on Tuesday in the UK’s The Telegraph: Hugo Chavez is ‘clinging to Christ and life’ as breathing gets worse.

If you don’t know, Joe Flacco is the quarterback for the world-champion Baltimore Ravens of the NFL. It just so happens that his contract to play for the Ravens ran out as he was leading his team to their second-ever Super Bowl win. You might also need to know that Joe Flacco has always been considered a good quarterback, but usually not allowed into the elite ranks of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Payton Manning and Drew Brees.

Joe Flacco is 28 years old and has been playing professional football for five years. If he plays for another six years, he’ll earn $120 million. They paid him $29 million as a signing bonus and there are all sorts of complicated formulas for guarantees in the event of injury. At age 28 Joe Flacco probably isn’t thinking much about being 48 and racked with arthritis in every joint of his body or unable to think clearly with his concussion-ravaged brain. I’ll take my salary and my job any day.

But according to Joe Flacco, his new contract is not about money or compensation for wrecking his body for our Sunday afternoon viewing pleasure. Flacco says it was all about respect. Again, from the Washington Post:

“It was never about earning the money and all that. It was about earning the respect,” the Baltimore Ravens quarterback said Monday at a press conference after signing his $120.6-million deal (with $52 million guaranteed). “Definitely about earning that respect and feeling that respect around here. The fact that we got it done and that they made me [the highest-paid player] definitely makes me feel good about how we played and how they feel about me.”

By all accounts Joe Flacco is a nice guy, an ordinary Joe who showed up in jeans and a zip-up sweatshirt for the news conference after signing the contract and then celebrated by ordering ten Chicken McNuggets at a McDonald’s drive through on the way home.

I could make some snide comment about how much respect you can buy with $120 million, but I won’t. If I had $120 million, I’d undoubtedly use a fair amount of it to buy some respect. I like to be liked. I covet respect – the respect of my friends at LPC, for sure, but also, and especially, the respect of my colleagues in ministry. It’s important to me. I like to be liked.

Scripture doesn’t disregard our need for respect, honor given for who we are and what we have done. Paul tells Timothy that those who are to serve as elders are to be respected by others; held in honor by those who know them. But the Preacher of Ecclesiastes rightly reminds us that at the end of the day all is vanity, emptiness. Better than the regard of others is the love of God. The cost of being called the children of God was infinitely more than $120 million. But it is the free gift of God.

By all accounts Joe Flacco is a nice guy. By all accounts Hugo Chavez was not. The Venezuelan dictator died on Tuesday. I found the Telegraph’s Monday headline about him clinging to Christ in his final hours unsettling. Oh, to be sure, the Information Ministry was doing its best to manage the news and prepare the nation for the death of its president. In heavily Catholic Latin America, the line was maybe nothing more than one more attempt at manipulation by the regime that had been manipulating the lives of its citizens for the past fourteen years.

About a year ago, already well into his struggle with cancer, Chavez said that the ordeal had “made him more Christian.” Really, the deranged despot one of Christ’s own, a person of faith? I don’t like the idea. Read the article and you may hear more derangement than faith.

Of course, we are bound to wonder about the sincerity of Chavez’ statements. We should wonder. There was little about him that would cause us to trust what he said. But there is nothing about the gospel that would preclude Hugo Chavez from being, in the end, one of Christ’s own. The need for repentance would not be canceled, a requirement of a plea for forgiveness not waived. But if, as he clung to Christ in those final hours, Hugo Chavez sought the mercy and forgiveness of Christ, he would not be denied. The Reformers called it “effectual calling.” It always comes in God’s time, to the boy Samuel called in the night or to a thief on a cross soon to die.

It’s not mine to say, and, frankly, I don’t like the idea, but there is nothing about the gospel that would preclude Hugo Chavez from being, in the end, one of Christ’s own. Eternal life in Christ is a free gift to sinners who have earned death. No wonder the world does not like the gospel.

All Joe Flacco wants is a little respect and he hopes his $120 million will buy him some. The love by which we are called children of God is a free gift. No wonder the world does not understand the gospel.

Joe Flacco can’t buy God’s love and Hugo Chavez doesn’t deserve God’s love. The amazing thing about grace is that by it Joe Flacco will be showered with God’s love even if he never throws another completion. And by grace Hugo Chavez may be among those now singing their praises before the throne of God above. And by grace, through faith, God has saved a wretch like me. Amazing.