The right or correct?

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03/14/2014

The right or correct
The serpentine cross on Mount Nebo, in Jordan is symbolic of the bronze serpent created by Moses.

Lectionary blog for March 16, 2014
The Second Sunday in Lent
Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121;
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

By Delmer Chilton

In his book, “Following Jesus without Embarrassing God,” Tony Campolo tells a story about Randy Johnson, who was President Lyndon Johnson’s nephew. Randy was a mediocre quarterback on a mediocre Oklahoma State football team. Nobody would have noticed him except for the fact that he was LBJ’s nephew. 

It was 1966 and Oklahoma State was close to finishing another bad year, except for their final game against arch-rival Oklahoma, a top-10 team on their way to a bowl game. State should have been beaten easily, but you know how it is with big rivalries; it was a close game right down to the very last. But with 8 seconds left Oklahoma State was behind by six points, it was raining hard, and they were 80 yards away from the goal line.

The coach called time-out and sent in all the seniors so they could finish the game on the field.

He said to third-string quarterback Randy Johnson, “Call any play you want. It’s over.” When they came out of the huddle, the coach couldn’t believe his eyes. They were lining up for play 13. Play 13 was a trick play they never used in a game for one simple reason — it had never worked in practice. But, they ran play 13. And it worked. They went 80 yards on that one play and kicked the extra point and won the game. While fans stormed the field and players jumped up and down, the coach just stood there in shocked disbelief.

In the locker room, the coach asked Randy, “Why? Why did you call play 13? And Randy said, “Well, Coach, we got in the huddle and I looked at old Bill and there he was, injured for two years and never getting to play much and now it was all over. He had tears running down his face and I looked and saw his number was 8. Then I looked around and there was George and he had come to practice and worked hard for four straight years and only got to play one or two times and now it was over and there were tears running down his face and I looked and his number was 7. So I added 8 and 7 and got 13; so I called play 13.”

The coach just stared at Randy a minute and said, “But Randy. 8+7 isn’t 13 — it’s 15.” Randy thought a minute and said, “Well, Coach, if I was as smart as you, we would have lost the game!”

Campolo concluded, “Sometimes the ‘correct’ answer is not the ‘right’ answer.”

When I read in John about the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus, I sometimes feel like I’m listening to Randy Johnson and his coach discuss play 13. Nicodemus is looking for the correct answer, Jesus is trying to give him the right answer, and poor old Nick can’t seem to make “the math work.”

He, like many others, is looking for correct answers to life’s many questions. I’m guessing he would prefer something along the lines of “10 things you can do to guarantee your place in God’s kingdom,” or “Get closer to God the rabbi way — four weeks to a holier you.”

Instead he gets riddles along the lines of 8+7=13. “You must be born again” or was that, “You must be born from above”? Either way, it doesn’t make much sense. How can one crawl back in the womb after one has grown old? I don’t get this.

Like Campolo said, “Sometimes the ‘correct’ answer is not the ‘right’ answer.”

Just like Nicodemus — we look for correct answers, proper answers, appropriate and sensible answers to life’s many questions. We want things to be logical, to be sensible, to be grounded in good research and proper documentation. And then we read the Bible and hear Jesus talking about being “born from above,” and the “Son of Man,” being lifted up like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, and then we have to look up that strange story about the Exodus and the Israelites being rebellious and bitten by snakes and getting sick and dying and then Moses makes a bronze serpent and puts it on a pole and carries it through the camp and people look at it and get healed and this is like Jesus; oh, I see that’s like Jesus on the cross and, and, and — it’s enough to make your head spin.

But like Campolo said, “Sometimes the ‘correct’ answer is not the ‘right’ answer.”

Because the Son of Man being lifted up is the right answer, and it’s not an answer any of our human logic or philosophy or science would have come up with. It is the moral equivalent of 8+7=13. Though God in Christ going to a cross to die for us makes no sense in human terms — by divine calculus it is the right answer every time. Because it is most certainly true that “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Amen and amen.


Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

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