What do Lance Armstrong and Manti Teʻo have in common?
They are just like you. And me.
What do the four of us have in common? Our desire for status can often trump all else and cause us to lose focus. Am I appalled by some of the things that Lance has said and done? Absolutely. But I’m also appalled by many of the thoughts in my head and the things that I do or say. Am I baffled by Manti’s explanation of what happened? Absolutely. But I’m also baffled by some of the things I justify to myself.
Our sermon team was preparing this week for an upcoming message in our Luke series at Central and one of the verses stood out in particular.
Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” Luke 11:46
Here Jesus confronted both the Pharisees and the experts in the law of the Old Testament. His accusation is twofold: 1) they put spiritual weight on the shoulders of others, and 2) they don’t do anything to help them with it. It’s easy to point the finger at these long-dead guys and move on. But the tougher question is why were they doing it?
Remember, these were religious people. These were the people that appeared to know God the best. These were the people that appeared to have it all together. I don’t think they had evil hearts or a desire to see others suffer needlessly. They were simply wrapped up in protecting their status.
You see for these religious leaders their status was in the distance between their spirituality and the spirituality of everyone else. By definition, if they helped others on their own spiritual journey toward maturity then they themselves would cease to be on such a higher moral ground (at least by appearances). As a result, these God followers found themselves weighing people down and ultimately enjoying the fact that there was nothing the people could do to rise above it.
Their desire for status caused them to work toward the opposite of what they represented.
Now back to our two famous liars in the spotlight right now. It’s easy to point the finger at these exposed guys and move on. But the tougher question is why did they do it?
Like our religious leaders in Luke chapter eleven, they are wrapped up in protecting their status. As a result, they ended up working toward the opposite of what they represented. Lance tarnishes the sport that he built into what it is today. Manti tarnishes the values that he stood for (including being a vocal Mormon) and the leadership he appeared to display. Here’s a line from Lance in his interview with Oprah:
“This story was so perfect for so long. It’s this myth, this perfect story, and it wasn’t true.”
The lesson for each of us, if we would stop to consider it, is that the same desire for status that wrecked the religious leaders, Lance Armstrong, and Manti Teʻo, lives inside of each one of us. The specifics are different (and debatable), but the motivation is the same. Whenever we display a version of ourselves which we know to be inaccurate or misleading (check your past Facebook statuses for a gut-check on this one) we fall into the same error. Whenever we work to maintain our status at all costs. Whenever we allow our pride to convince us of a disproportionate view on ourselves.
People all throughout history have been connected by the need to protect and maintain status with the people around them. It is a strong drive that can derail the very core of what we are attempting to represent. While the limelight is currently on Lance Armstrong and Manti Teʻo, it will not be long until another person has joined the club for the exact same reasons. For those interested in submitting to the values of the Kingdom of God—it shouldn’t be us.