The Final Say

Heritage Presbyterian Church

October 23, 2022
20th Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture readings – 2nd Timothy 4: 6-8 and Luke 18: 9-14

With our beloved Astros in the thick of the baseball playoffs, it seems an appropriate time to use an old baseball story to illustrate the main point of today’s message.

In the World Series of 1965, the Los Angeles ace pitcher, Sandy Koufax, faced an interesting dilemma: the first game of the Series fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, the Day of Atonement.  Koufax, who was Jewish, felt it was not right for him to pitch on that sacred day.  He REALLY didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, but he made his position clear. 

When the sportswriters questioned the Dodgers’ manager, he replied, ““I won’t let Sandy pitch on Yom Kippur under any circumstances,” O’Malley told the press. “I can’t let the boy do that to himself.”  Yet O’Malley, too, decided to see what the heavens could do to avoid playing Game 1 on Yom Kippur, noting he’d “ask the Pope what he can do about rain on that day.”

Well…it didn’t rain the day of Game 1 of the World Series, and the Dodgers lost that game.  However, they went on to win that year’s World Series in seven games.  Koufax was named Most Valuable Player of that series since he pitched two complete games and part of a third.

Now let’s look at Koufax’s decisions and actions through the lens of today’s parable from the Lord.

Two sides of Sandy Koufax’s decision:

  1.  He needed to pitch.  After all it was the WORLD SERIES!  Not everyone gets to pitch in the World Series, let alone multiple times like Koufax did.  Also, he was letting his team down by not pitching.  It was only a game, for Heaven’s sake…a kid’s game played by grown men.  What’s the worse that could happen?  Koufax was a good enough player that he could afford – or even demand – to skip his turn in the pitching rotation.  And let’s not forget: the Dodgers won anyway.  This is the bragging, arrogant, prideful side of the argument.
  2. And now the other side…Koufax recognized and stated publicly that it wasn’t right for him to go against his beliefs and pitch on Yom Kippur.  He had also skipped a turn in pitching earlier in his career when his turn laned on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and he didn’t think that was right either.  He was being true to his faith, no matter what it cost him personally or professionally. 

He was also setting an example to everyone – especially younger players and kids everywhere – by demonstrating that some things are more important than baseball.  This is the humble side of the argument.

We can only speculate as to who it could have been in this scenario who could possibly have the final say if it were not for Koufax: the Dodgers’ manager, the Dodgers’ owner, the head of the sports section of the Los Angeles Time newspaper, the Commissioner of Baseball, and possibly even the television networks who had paid good money for the rights to televise the game in the first place.

All had status and their own two cents’ worth to add in.  But the final say was not even Sandy Koufax’s; it was the Lord’s and Koufax acknowledged that.

When Paul wrote his final letter to his friend, Timothy, we could also look at the letter through a similar lens as the Koufax story.

  1.  Paul was acting like a martyr.  Sure, he had “been there and done that” as the saying goes.  He had spread the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire and even had plans to go to the outer reaches of the Empire.  He had faced beatings, arguments, being stoned, being run out of town, and even multiple jailings.  He was almost denying death in his letters from that Roman prison.  Now he knew he was going to die, so he was trying one more valiant attempt to keep his ministry going by appealing to his protegee, Timothy.  In his letter, he seemed to be boasting about all he had accomplished, and that was why Timothy and all believers should listen to his message.  He was THE man to give it.
  2. Paul was giving thanks for God’s grace being given so Paul could “finish the race” and know that he had done his best.  There was no denial of his own impending death, yet Paul was demonstrating that it was time for new leadership to pick up the mantle of serving Christ and carry on with it.  Paul never told Timothy “just keep doing everything I have been doing.”  Paul didn’t have to do this; Timothy had learned directly from Paul and knew what to do, but Timothy would face his own unique trials and frustrations.  Paul did not lay claim to a “victory wreath” to be given to him for finishing that race; his victory was not cheered by adoring crowds or human judges.  Instead, Paul understood clearly that any victory was by the Lord, the ultimate judge…and the only one with the final say.

For each of us, look clearly at the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  Somewhere in that continuum of human behavior, each of us can find ourselves.  We like to think we are as righteous as the Pharisee – without all the bragging, of course.  We also like to think of ourselves as being as humble as that lowly tax collector – without all the sin, of course.

The truth is that all of us – constantly, daily, with every conscious thought and action – lie somewhere in the middle.  

We can and we should do all the righteous things the Pharisee named:

  • We SHOULD thank the Lord that we are not like robbers, evildoers, adulterers.
  • We SHOULD fast and pray once in a while and do so in a disciplined way.
  • We SHOULD regularly tithe what we can afford to the church – especially if we consider ourselves to be members of that church.

But let’s not forget the tax collector…those Jews who worked for the Roman Empire to collect taxes from their own fellow Jews!  Those tin-badge officials who used Roman guards to enforce their tax judgments; those miserable cheaters who were often rich because of the “extra” payments they often worked out for themselves.  Small wonder that the phrase “tax collectors and sinners” carries so much disgust and derision when it was used to label Jesus’ dinner guests.

This guy was worse than the Samaritans!  They at least kept to themselves and lived separately from the Jews.  But tax collectors were seen as the lowest of the low…they were lower on the Jewish social scale than beggars, lepers, and shepherds!

And yet our Lord used a poor member of this group to make his point about who has the final say in who is justified and who is not.  It is not for human eyes, or human hearts, or human opinions to decide that question.

Instead, it is the Lord’s prerogative.

All we can do is live our lives as humbly as possible.

All we can do is lay up our treasures in heaven, as the song goes.

All we can do is set an example in all that we do for others, especially those who love and look up to us.

People are watching.

Family is watching.

Children are especially watching.

And the Lord is also watching too.