September 24, 2012
“Say it ain’t so, Joe!”
The line came into our cultural history 92 years ago this week. “Shoeless Joe” Jackson was a left-fielder with the Chicago White Sox who played in the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. After the series, charges were made that eight of the Sox had conspired to throw the Series, for $5,000 each. A Grand Jury was convened to get the facts; though later exonerated by a Chicago jury, the Commissioner of Baseball declared all eight ineligible for future play in the league, forever.
Coming out of the Grand Jury hearings, Joe Jackson had the encounter with an urchin who was a fan that caught the front-page headlines: “Say it ain’t so, Joe.” How could his hero have done what he was reputed to have done?
That’s the way some felt last week when the news came from Massachusetts: 125 students at Harvard University had been accused of cheating on a take-home test. Based on their Honor System, they could use their notes, books or the internet to complete the exam, but they were expressly forbidden from collaboration with each other. Several of the students implicated have already announced their intention to sue the institution if action is taken against them as a result of this investigation…
It seems like we’re in an unrelenting game of “Who Can You Trust?” The answer from the headlines seems to be “No One.” Good luck finding a category of life today where we’ve not been shocked or saddened by the people – students, teachers, coaches, consumers, professionals, doctors, politicians, public servants, religious leaders, entertainers, family members, friends, spouses – who have seen their chance to choose a course that would benefit them at the expense of others… and gone down that path. What gives?
It’s Fall; using football as the metaphor, sandlot and street games happen with undefined sidelines and goal lines. “Out of bounds” calls cannot happen, when the line from the trash can to the pine tree is the marker. From high school to Super Bowl, the lines are chalked before the game, and the refs will whistle and throw if they see the line is crossed…
We count on the Law to set the legal chalk line in life; law enforcement is there to call violators, and courts exist to decide the case and set the penalty. But the law doesn’t satisfy our desire for a wholesome society; we need more than “legal” to be civilized.
That’s where morals and ethics establish an even tighter field of play. Simply saying “it was legal” doesn’t speak to our highest expectations. In every area of public encounter, a second round of limitation is sought. “It may be legal, but it sure wasn’t right…” is a judgment call that reminds us regularly that just because you can “get away with it,” it won’t win the respect of the people with whom you want to maintain credibility.
The insights of Jesus raised the bar to an even higher standard of self-limitation. In a religion founded on “The Law,” he was asked by legal experts to raise the profile of one of their mandates to the primacy level: “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22:36).
His answer was completely unexpected: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” ( Matthew 22: 37-40).
Legal isn’t good enough. Ethical is better, but not good enough. For 2000 years, the Golden Rule has been the working model for the Great Commandment: “Do to others, as you would have them do to you…” (Luke 6:31). “So, how would you feel if someone did that, to you?”
Too bad that God no longer has a place at our cultural/educational/political table; He has some great insights about how life best operates. God has proven Himself to be trustworthy; who else can you trust?
Who else can you trust?
September 24, 2012