Yesterday, Feb. 2, was Groundhog Day. It is that traditional holiday when the most famous groundhog of them all — Punxsutawney Phil from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania — makes a prediction on the weather. The nation (that might be stretching it) will watch with great anticipation as Phil emerges from his burrow.
If Phil emerges from his hole on a clear day and sees his shadow, he will retreat and there will be six more weeks of wintry weather. Yet again, if he emerges from his burrow and does NOT see his shadow, then an early spring weather is right around the corner. Did he see his shadow yesterday and retreat? Or, did he stay above ground in anticipation of an early spring? I wrote this article the weekend before, so I couldn’t tell you which one he did. Obviously, there is a 50/50 chance of either happening. It’s got to be one or the other.
But wait ... according to data compiled by NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Phil has accurately predicted the coming of spring 40% of the time. So instead of 50/50, it’s 60/40. That’s not exactly a great track record. Is this really an important enough event for us to pay attention to? There could be some connections to preparing for planting season, but my best guess is that Phil helps us to overcome the cabin fever we experience during this time of winter. This year, it’s not only cabin fever, but it’s also pandemic cabin fever.
It’s funny how odds work in the world today. Phil can be right only 40% of the time and the public still loves him. If a professional baseball player can hit 40% of at-bats, look out, Cooperstown, here he comes! On the other side of the coin, if a basketball player only hits 40% of their free throws, then putting her or him at the free throw line is a solid plan. I wonder where I would be if only 40% of my sermons were based on truth and Scripture. I’m thinking I’d be out of a job.
There is one probability that I believe the odds are really much better than any of these, and this is in the area of forgiveness. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37 NIV). This teaching from Jesus offers an unconditional 100% guarantee that our actions matter — not only matter, but make a difference. Whether we are judged, condemned or forgiven is connected not to any best guess or mid-winter prognostication. It’s directly connected to our willingness to NOT do those things to others.
Honestly, though, in today’s world each one of those actions might be a challenge for us. We have to make judgments about what we see in the world — that’s a natural response. Sometimes those judgments are projected upon people — we judge people, knowingly or unknowingly. We might see some things that are happening in the world and condemn them as things we would never want to take part in. No doubt that we’ve had someone hurt or harm us in such a way that makes it really difficult to forgive them. Odds are that these are not easy things to consider. Life sometimes gets complicated.
The point that Jesus is making is that difficult or not, our own inner being is challenged to make those tough calls and extend compassion and understanding to others, especially those who have wronged us. I’m not suggesting that this is an easy thing to do. I know it isn’t. I know because I have not always been 100% compliant to these directives in my lifetime. But that doesn’t stop me (or us) from coming out of the darkness to see my shadow in the light of God, to step up to the plate and swing at all that life has to offer, or to stand on the free throw line and try again and again to make the shots of good choices each and every day. You and I can make the effort — 100% of the time — make the effort. At the very least, we need to give it a try.
What are your odds?
Daren Flinck is pastor at Worthington's First United Methodist Church and Adrian United Methodist Church.