In Galatians 2:11-16, Peter visits the Gentile Christian headquarters in Antioch where Paul’s mission was currently based. This whole Gentiles-are-cool-with-us movement was a relatively new phenomenon, and at the time was gaining a stronger foothold among the Jewish Christians. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) had recently issued a favorable rule toward the Gentile people, and Peter comes to visit afterwards as a perceived advocate for their cause. (Acts 10; 15:7-12). His visit from Jerusalem to Antioch was assumedly a nice gesture to promote the good work being done here and offer his good graces as one of the utmost leaders of the emerging church.
When he arrives, all is well. He eats with the Gentiles and treats them as his equals. But then the men of James (the leader of the Jerusalem church – cf. Acts 15:13ff) showed up and Peter’s tune quickly changed. As a result of peer pressure, Peter turned against the Gentile people, sided with these divisive men who heralded the favored status of the Jews, and refused to eat with the Gentiles. After his time spent with Cornelius (Acts 10) and the ruling of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), these decisions seemed to be the essence of hypocrisy.
Well Paul wouldn’t stand for it. He marched straight across the cafeteria, flipped Peter’s tray over and off of the lunch table, and firmly rebuked his duplicitous ways. But the damage had been done. The effects of Peter’s decisions, being the public figure that he was, rippled out into the lives of many others. Barnabas stumbled (Gal 2:13). James’ men were affirmed. Paul was dishonored. And the Gentiles were belittled.
Q: Does God punish children for their parents’ sin?
Q: Does God punish wives for their husbands’ sin?
Q: Does God punish others for the sins of one?
Maybe. Sometimes. On a few occasions in the Old Testament you could make a good case for God’s punishment of others. But I doubt he does it all that often. At least not in the clean and direct way we might envision.
But husbands do. They punish their wives with their selfish sins. And fathers do. They punish their children with their selfish sins. If there is one thing that always rings ever true about sin, it is that in this life your loved ones often pay a tall price for your mistakes. Especially when they reach the degree of Jerry Sandusky’s.
Now I’m not here to condemn Sandusky for his sins or cast judgment on a heart I know little about. There are plenty of people already doing that. I believe God’s the judge, so I’ll just pray in the meantime that his Kingdom come and will be done, and that Jerry Sandusky finds grace.
But what I find most heart-wrenching about the entire thing isn’t the 442 year sentence on the 68-year old coach. Nor is it the fact that he will be imprisoned in a solitary 6×8 foot box for the rest of his days. Although both of these are very sad. What I find most heart-wrenching about yesterday is the pain so evident on everyone else’s hearts. The undeserved, unsolicited pain that will be forever present in the lives of so many because of the sins of one person.
The loneliness and shame heaped upon Sandusky’s wife, Dottie, as everyone around her celebrates the demise of her husband.
The fresh-as-ever shock and interminable disgrace that his children will be forced to carry with them.
The fiery vengeance boiling in the heart of his adopted son Matt, as he begged to testify against his dad.
The long-buried fear and embarrassment dredged to the surface for all the victims and their families.
Life lesson for Peter, Sandusky, and the rest of us: a cross-shaped person always weighs their decisions in light of others. We all must take into close consideration the burdens that others will carry because of our decisions first. Because, the fact is, you are not the only one whose life will be forever shaped by your life.
Who cares what happens to me? I’m pretty positive that my sense of justice would easily accept any fair punishment for my mistakes. But what about my innocent wife? What about my unsuspecting mom? What about my blameless church? Now that’s real motivation to fight my sinful passions.
When you follow in the footsteps of Jesus and live a cross-shaped life, your life isn’t about you anyways. And sometimes, it takes a dismal and despairing moment like this for all of us to be reminded of it.