When the great Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Lynn Swann was finally inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001, he had already spent numerous years on the ballot—more than he felt he should, apparently. According to Terry Bradshaw, Swann's quarterback throughout his career (and a hall-of-famer himself), Swann blamed him for not making it in sooner. The perceived injury was great enough for Swann to refer to it on the day of his induction. On what should have been a day of celebration, Swann decided to get his pound of flesh. He publicly blamed Bradshaw for not throwing him the ball enough in the late 70's.
Bradshaw later commented: "…I kept thinking how sad it was that he chose what should have been one of the greatest days of his life to create this controversy."
Earlier this year, when Michael Jordan was inducted into the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame, he chose a similar approach. Shortly after hearing himself proclaimed the greatest basketball player who ever lived and watching an awe-inspiring career highlights video, Jordan took to the podium and things got personal. He used one of the greatest moments of his life to exact petty revenge on those who had slighted him throughout his career. He went after former Knicks coach, Jeff Van Gundy. He scolded Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson for snubbing him way back in 1985 (!) at the NBA All-Star game. Rather than enjoy the evening celebrating his accomplishments, he chose to stir-up controversy.
It's frustrating when people take an opportunity for celebration and turn it into something petty and mean-spirited.
That's exactly what happens to Jesus in Mark 12. Jesus, the Messiah, finally comes to Jerusalem. The Son of David comes to the Temple. This man who has spent his life healing the lame and feeding the hungry, who has brought the Good News of God's kingdom to his people, doesn't receive a very kind welcome.
Instead he is greeted by religious leaders motivated by personal vendettas alternately trying to publicly embarrass him or have him killed. And even though Jesus obviously saw it coming, I wonder if it wasn't also difficult for him.
Mark 12 would be a truly tragic chapter, if not for a couple of brief highlights. In these two instances, we can see past the foolish controversies and into the heart of pure religion. These moments are an important reminder to us not to miss the big picture in our faith. I hope you and I can get the big picture this morning.