As a seventh grader, I was the greatest football player in the world, and I knew it. There was no organized team, but I played in my backyard every day, by myself.
I would hike the ball to myself, throw long, arching passes to myself, make impossible, diving catches by myself, then run for a touchdown, high-fiving myself in the end zone.
I was unbeatable. Not even I could stop me.
In the eighth grade, I joined the football team at my school, and the coach was ecstatic. He had already heard of me. Either that or he was thinking of the eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback who was then in his 13th season with the St. Louis Cardinals and happens to share my name, Hall of Fame legend Larry Wilson.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Coach said, jaw dropping to the floor. “I’ve got Larry Wilson on my team!”
Yes, Coach, you do.
Practices were a little tougher than I’d expected, but I was getting the hang of it. One day my dad asked who was the best player on our team. I answered without hesitation. “Me.” What kind of stupid question was that anyway?
Game day finally arrived.
It was the first Thursday in October, and I was ready. By some oversight I’d been left off the starting lineup. But I was assigned to special teams, certainly a great honor, and I was on the field for the very first play, the kickoff.
We booted the ball down the field, and I took off after it, running straight in my lane just like a pro. The receiver fielded the kick and headed straight at me. I squared up, lowered my shoulder, and Boom, baby!
Stiff arm. Got me right in the forehead. I went back on my butt like a two year old, and the runner scored.
Next kickoff I got blocked into the sideline. For the rest of the afternoon I got chopped at the knee, picked up by the pads and tossed on the ground, forearmed under the face mask, tripped, punched in the stomach, and finally ignored.
Here’s the truth: I was the worst player on the team and everybody knew it but me.
When the gun sounded, my crisp, clean, away jersey was perfectly white on the front and caked with mud on the back.
And my tailbone wasn’t the only thing that got bruised. I was embarrassed, humiliated, broken.
Game day is when your vision of yourself gets squared with reality. It’s brutal, painful, inevitable.
Game day for Peter was also a Thursday.
The day began with that age-old argument about who’s the best player on the team. Peter was sure he was, and he said so.
Careful there, Sport, Jesus tried to say. Could be a tough game, and I’m not sure you’ll be standing up when the gun sounds.
But Peter was sure. Dead sure. I’m your go-to guy. I got this.
Peter fell asleep in the clinch, not twice but three times. He wielded a sword with all the skill of a fisherman, cutting off someone’s ear. He dropped the blade and ran. Later, he denied even knowing who Jesus was. Then he did it again. And again. Then the rooster crowed.
Game day ended with Peter crying, embarrassed, and alone. It’s a hard thing to find out who you really are.
For the Church, today is the first Thursday of October.
Today we are facing our own Holy Thursday, a game day if you will, when our vision of ourselves is tested by reality.
We hear much brave talk about which of us are the greatest disciples, which sit closest to the master, know the Bible more thoroughly, and understand exactly what Jesus would do about every social movement, moral situation, or governmental policy. We even claim to know how Jesus would vote.
I can’t help but think of Peter, arguing about the seating chart at the Last Supper, or me, talking smack in the locker room.
Easy does it, Sport. Dial back the rhetoric just a bit. Do you really know what Jesus is doing in the world? Do you really know what you’ll do when the whistle blows?
These days the concept of modesty is mostly urged upon young women to make them dress more appropriately. The basic meaning of the word is quite different. Modesty is the quality of not being too confident about yourself or your abilities.
This modesty seems more urgently needed by Christian leaders than by teenage girls. I wonder what a sense of humility concerning our knowledge of God might do for the effectiveness of the worldwide church. I wonder if a little modesty might save us all some embarrassment when that final gun sounds.
I know it would have saved me.