I am still recovering from the dismay over the abysmal performance of the Kansas City Chiefs at the Super Bowl. You can call it a malaise, or something worse than that. I haven’t been able to recover from it. My feelings are like the pandemic, it fluctuates between extreme anger and kind disquiet. I just couldn’t believe that the Chiefs could play like that. "Were the players psychologically prepared for battle?" I asked. You might have been close by to have heard my screaming and shouting over such an awful performance.
Is Fr. Manny a Kansas City Chiefs fan? Not really, no. I had followed them all through the season, though, and am highly impressed by the skill of their quarterback Patrick Mahomes. I'm especially impressed with the way he can take over a game and make incredible plays that can make you go gaga. But at this year’s Super Bowl, that Patrick Mahomes seemed to be nowhere to be found. I wondered, "Why?" I, for one, believed that the Chiefs would blow the Buccaneers out of the water, so to speak. After all, the Chiefs had been a high-performing football team until then, and their statistics were, as they say, off the chain. The Buccaneers were a good team, but when compared to the Chiefs they were the weaker of the two. So, what happened? I do not know. The Buccaneers had an old guard in QB Tom Brady, and you not only write him off at your own risk but to be so successful against such an opponent, you have to dig a little deeper.
The problem is that we sometimes tend to minimize our own strength and our capacity to punch above our weight. We have a tendency to write ourselves off and can then lose the fight before the first punch is ever thrown. We can measure our weakness against the other’s strength, instead of our strength against their strength. But remember the wonderful story of David and Goliath? Although David was a young lad, he didn’t measure his weakness against that of Goliath, even though Goliath measured his strength against David’s weakness. David measured his strength against Goliath’s strength and then thundered these words “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.” David knew he possessed something that Goliath had derided. On the battlefield, David killed Goliath. He was the strongest and most well-armed of the two, so, what happened?
The irony of life is that our biggest weakness can become our biggest strength. There’s a story of one 10-year-old boy who decided to study judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident. The boy soon began lessons with an old Japanese Judo master. The boy was doing well, so he couldn’t understand why, after three months of training, the master had taught him only one move.
“Sensei,” the boy finally said, “shouldn’t I be learning more moves?”
“This is the only move you know, but this is the only move you’ll ever need to know,” the sensei replied.
Not quite understanding, but believing in his teacher, the boy kept training. Several months later, the sensei took the boy to his first tournament. Surprising himself, the boy easily won his first two matches. The third match proved to be more difficult, but after some time, his opponent became impatient and charged; the boy then deftly used his one move to win the match. Still amazed by his success, the boy was now in the finals.
This time, his opponent was bigger, stronger, and more experienced; for a while, the boy appeared to be overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time-out. He was about to stop the match when the sensei intervened.
“No,” the sensei insisted, “let him continue.”
Soon after the match resumed, his opponent made a critical mistake: he dropped his guard. Instantly, the boy used his move to pin him. The boy had won the match and the tournament - he was now the champion.
On the way home, the boy and sensei reviewed every move in each and every match. Then the boy summoned the courage to ask what was really on his mind.
“Sensei, how did I win the tournament with only one move? What happened?"
“You won for two reasons,” the sensei answered. “First, you’ve almost mastered one of the most difficult throws in all of judo. And second, the only known defense for that move is for your opponent to grab your left arm.”
The boy’s biggest weakness had become his biggest strength. Sometimes our biggest weakness can become our biggest strength. What weaknesses do you have? What are your strengths? Can you turn those weaknesses into strengths? Can you maximize your strengths?
One of the values I have found about Lent is in dwelling on our weaknesses - though not with the desire of glorying in them. Oftentimes, those weaknesses become the pathway to our sins. They also become so challenging that we sort of give up on ourselves and write ourselves off, and we can even discourage ourselves from taking the steps that could convince us that we can beat any team - even the Kansas City Chiefs. We tend to forget Paul’s confession in 2 Corinthians 12 - “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
This confession wasn’t pulled out of thin air; it was Paul’s reality. He was keenly aware that he couldn’t win any battle by himself alone. It reminds me of David’s thunderous response to Goliath: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”
I have come to believe that we don’t make ourselves strong. We are strong because we possess something that our Goliath constantly derides. We are strong because we possess something that the adversary cannot contend with. That ‘something’ makes us strong in our weakness, and so we walk and not faint, we run and are not weary, and we win the battles against the Goliaths of our lives.
I think I know what happened... I came to discover that within me resides a power that is greater than any power in the world. (1 John 4:4) And to be successful against any adversary or opponent, I have to dig a little deeper.