Whether in games, relationships or life, I delight in second chances–an occasion to redeem myself.
There is hardly any sense of relief as good as when I mess up my lines but get to rewind the footage and film take two.
In golf we call them Mulligans.
For non-golfers, a Mulligan is when a hacker like me takes a second shot because the first one stunk so bad…and my score is no worse because of it. In other words, the first shot didn’t count.
Yes, I know Mulligans aren’t legal. But then, I’m not quitting my day job for the PGA tour either.
But no Mulligans are as important to me as those I am in given in my stumbling pursuit of Jesus.
These are life-Mulligans.
Much of my life in grace has been about God giving me opportunities to make better results out of stuff I’ve screwed up.
Obviously, all the bad results and consequences don’t go away. But when God grants a life-Mulligan, it is amazing what he can do with that second shot.
It’s like when Jonah found himself beached in whale puke with the voice of God ringing in his ears: “now will you get to Ninevah?” He may have stunk, but he had another opportunity to make a difference. And he took it.
But some of the saddest times in my life are those when I have wasted a life-mulligan…when I shank the second shot worse than the first.
I am not the only one.
Take for instance, the time Jesus gave his disciples a mulligan…and they promptly hooked the ball into the water hazard. Ker-plunk!
Mark, whose raw gospel shows that he didn’t have a clue how to retouch the disciples’ image, tells it best.
In chapter 6, he tells the story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people who were wandering around after him all over Judea. In this instance the disciples came to him worried that the people were going to starve and wondering how in the world they could be fed.
Jesus challenged them…“You give them something to eat.” This is chance #1 to do Kingdom stuff.
Their response was understandable but earthly. “We don’t have what it takes to do that.” That is the chance blown to kingdom come!
So Jesus simply gives them a lesson in how Heaven works on earth. (Mark 6:37ff)
Now on to chance #2.
It was only a short time later that they were once again meandering through the desert 4,000 curious follower in tow facing the same food shortages.
But this time, Jesus came to them. “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.” (Mark 8:3)
Here was the great do-over. Jesus wanted to see if the disciples had gotten what He was trying to show them about the Kingdom when he had fed the 5,000. So he presents them the opportunity.
It’s like a leading question or a fill in the blank, open-book quiz. This is their big chance. A massive Mulligan opportunity.
“Ok guys, what do we do now?” (Fill in the blank–you already know the answer). _____________
“Swing at it, fellahs! Crank this one long and straight down the fairway. This is your moment to shine!”
Jesus had already shown them how it was done. Here was their chance to show Him how well they had learned.
The disciples’ response this time is classic. “But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” It’s a line loaded with the irony of a Monty Python movie!
Sitting right in front of them is the One who had showed them the first time how to do the impossible Kingdom style. He had literally drawn them a picture. This is color-by-number discipleship. But they neither got the picture nor the point.
Neither do I.
Now some people think the gospel writers got confused on the two feedings–mixed up the same event in their attempts to remember. I disagree. I absolutely believe feeding #2 was the disciples’ mulligan.
Later that evening, they climb into their boat to go find a place to rest. The pre-occupied disciples forgot to put food stores on board.
Jesus has moved on from their epic Mulligan fail and wants to teach them deeper things. He warns against the “yeast of the Pharisees”.
But his friends were still stuck on their failure. “It is because we have no bread.”
It is at that point that Jesus asks the searching questions that rise from wasted second chances: “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” (Mark 8:18)
He reminds them: “‘When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ ‘Twelve,’ they replied. ‘And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ They answered, ‘Seven.’”
“Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:19-20)
Life-Mulligans don’t always come our way. When they do, we need to be ready.
I sometimes wonder how big the grin would have been on Jesus’ face had if he posed the question about feeding the four thousand only to have his disciples climbing over each other to give the correct answer.
“Oh, oh, oh, pick me! Pick me! I know!”
Jesus loves to give us second chances. But to make the most of them, we need to remember the lessons of the first ones.