January 23 – The Sin of the Hiss Heard ‘Round the World

inflated ballIt comes as needed comic relief. A coup in Yemen has deposed a president friendly to the West and to moderation. The king’s death in neighboring Saudi Arabia is cause for global anxiety. ISIS has told the Japanese government that the countdown to the execution of two Japanese nationals held captive in Syria has begun.

In the United States, we are consumed by news about “Inflategate.”

If you are just waking from a Rip Van Winkle sleep, you may go here to learn more about the hiss heard ‘round the world. In short, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and star quarterback Tom Brady have been accused of letting some air out of the footballs used in this past Sunday’s playoff game. The slightly deflated balls may have given Brady a bit of an edge in the Patriots’ 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

According to an ESPN poll, 66% of all Americans and 73% of all Pennsylvanians consider the Patriots to be cheaters (on deflated balls and other charges). Whether we are outraged at the Patriots’ cheating may be another matter. Studies show that as many as 80% of high school students and over 50% of  college students cheat on exams, and that a third of all adults have figured out how to cheat the time clock at work. We are a nation of cheaters.

Cheating was not on the Top Ten list Moses brought down from Sinai and it is not included on the classic list of seven deadly sins. Upon further review, however, it may be on both lists more than once. Cheating may be the outworking of coveting, a form of stealing, and always a matter of false witness. Greed, envy, and pride certainly play a part in cheating.

So why do we – Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, you and I – cheat? The Patriots would have beaten the Colts with only ten players on the field all game long. Richard Nixon was well on the way to a 49-state landslide when he ordered the Watergate break-in, the cheating scandal from which all subsequent “-gates” have received their names. Cheating is more than a matter of desperation, more than a dubious means to a noble end.

Why do we cheat? Sin. Maybe pride, the sin that is often at the top of the list of deadly sins. Dante described pride as “love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one’s neighbor.” Another Super Bowl ring to boost one’s sense of self.

Or perhaps greed, pride being a form of greed – greed for self, greed for greatness. Cheating is sometimes the outworking of sloth, laziness. Why study when you can cheat? It may be a form of stealing, minutes or hours stolen from our employers.

Letting a little air out of the playoff ball is a sin. Like all sin it is rooted in not trusting God to be the God he has promised to be. “Did God really say?” to serpent asks the woman. Thirty pieces of silver are a lot less elusive than the promise of abundance offered by Jesus. A Super Bowl ring says more to our world than trusting Jesus who sends us to spend a day scrubbing pots at a soup kitchen, to comfort a distraught neighbor, or to show up at choir practice week after week after week.

Bill Belichick does not need to become a social worker nor Tom Brady a tenor in the LPC Choir. But they do need to know that cheating, that petty little act of letting some air out of a ball, is sin. They need to know that there is something more important than one more ring. They need to know the still more excellent way. They need to know Christ. And they need to quit cheating.  So do you and so do I.