It was 1980 something when I got into a physical altercation at school with Tyrone Minor. Despite his last name, there was nothing minor about Tyrone. He was twice my size and oh so much tougher. On that dreadful morning, I walked into homeroom and gave Tyrone a friendly punch on the shoulder for no particular reason (aside from being a prepubescent kid). In response, Tyrone gave me a friendly punch on the shoulder. But it was harder than the one that I had laid on him. Quid pro quo, I socked him again on the shoulder, a bit harder than before. And so on and so forth it went until it wasn’t funny anymore. Hyped up on gummy bears and Hulk Hogan—the candy and entertainment de jour—all of the sudden, I punched Tyrone in the face. I remember saying to myself:
“I just started a fight with Tyrone Minor. What was I thinking?!”
And sure enough, it was on. Fisticuffs all around! Tyrone dodged one blow, wrapped his arms around me, lifted me up and slammed me down onto a couple of the school’s brand new electric typewriters. Henceforth, as the battle waged on, I could distinctly hear the tap-tap-tap-tap-tap of the keyboards under me. It seemed they were fairing about as well in the fight as I was.
Now I don’t know how it was at your school, but at Junction City Junior High on the Arkansas-Louisiana line, when there was a fight, kids went crazy. They would drop whatever they were doing to rush to the site to watch the fight. True to form, students from classrooms all around crowded into the room, surrounded us, gawked and cheered. I’m telling you, it was Lord of the Flies in there: and sadly I was Piggy. I don’t know where all the grown-ups were, but fortunately for me, they finally showed up and rescued me.
Tyrone and me were then marched to the office to face the wrath of Mr. Hux. Red-faced, the coach-cum-administrator walked into his office and boomed, “Alright, boys, who started it?!” I got ready to fess up, to take my lumps, since it was totally my fault. I initiated both the tomfoolery and the fight. But while I was mustering up my half-fledging courage, Tyrone gave me a curious glance. Before I could speak, he blurted:
“ I am sorry, Mr. Hux, it was all my fault. I attacked, Joey. He didn’t do anything wrong.”
Wait, what?! I was dumbfounded. Tyrone was throwing himself under the Hux for me, the guy who had punched him in the face. Tyrone was going to take all the blame and receive the punishment that I, in fact, was due. I couldn’t believe it!
But neither could Mr. Hux. In response, he gave us both fiery licks on our behinds from his well-worn paddle and sent us back to fix all of the precious typewriters that were broken in our wake.
Although those poor machines were beyond repair, because of what Tyrone was willing to do for me, our relationship was no longer damaged. Rather, as we left Mr. Hux’s office with our backsides burning, we were no longer “frenemies”: we were brothers. That was long time ago, but what happened in Hux’s office is burned into my memory. In a moment, Tyrone’s gesture cut through our hormone-and-sugar-fueled rage and created a genuine bond between us.
And that’s the power of sacrifice. As silly as this whole episode is in hindsight, there’s something so compelling about Tyrone’s willingness to stand in my place. On Holy Week, it cannot help but remind me of another who not only stood in my/our place, but also died there. In an incomparable act, he who knew no sin took on our sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. As Paul wrote in Romans:
At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
May we never forget this sacrifice and may we never be the same because of it.