Season Seven, Episode Nine, Rock in the Road

by Thom McKee

Ever since 1990, I have been a huge football fan. Not American football (though I did watch every single pathetic 49ers game this year), but the football that everyone else in the world watches. Here in the U.S. we call it soccer. At that time, I lived in England and I got to go to my first football match – the Tottenham Hotspurs vs. Aston Villa. An English friend who was a massive Spurs fan took me to White Hart Lane where I instantly became a huge fan. The crowds were amazing, singing songs and yelling at the opposing fans with all kinds of passion. The teams were great, and I actually got to see Gary Lineker score a goal. It was an awesome experience. Twenty-six years later I still watch every single Spurs game (go Spurs!).

My friend who took me to the game was also a fan of American sports and he asked me what I thought about my experience. I told him that I enjoyed the uninterrupted pace of the game and I especially loved the teamwork. He laughed and then said that teamwork was actually one of the main differences between English football (they did invent it) and American sports like basketball. He explained that even though teamwork is a big factor in basketball, when a team like the Chicago Bulls had a player like Michael Jordan, it could make a huge difference in the game. At the time, it wasn’t all that unusual for Jordan to score 40 points in a single game. Just give him the ball and let him score. But in football, having one great player is just not enough. He explained to me that in football, your team is only as good as your weakest player. In a game where scoring 4 goals in one game is a major achievement, one weak player can easily cost you a game from a single mistake. In sports like basketball, a single mistake only makes a difference when the score is really close.

As I was watching the premiere of the second half of the season of The Walking Dead tonight, I couldn’t stop thinking about teamwork. It was so great to see the whole team together, solving problems and relying on each other. The scene where our heroes dismantled the explosives while Rick and Michonne close-lined hundreds of walkers was probably one of my favorite sequences in all seven seasons of the show. It was great to see them all in action again.

And let’s face it, the first half of this season has just been depressing. Not just because of the incredible losses we incurred (RIP Abraham and Glenn), but because so many of the episodes were about the individuals, not the team. Remember Tara discovering a seaside village full of women or Daryl trying to break out of Negan’s prison?

But tonight, the team is back together and it looks like they are ready to do battle with Negan. And my guess is that most of the fans are really excited about this. It was great to see the whole team argue with the very slimy Gregory. I was thinking that there was a 50/50 chance that one of them would just shoot him in the head (not that I condone such behaviors). It also was great to see them meet Ezekiel and his awesome pet tiger Shiva. There was even a little bit of hope that Carol will be joining our team again.

But just like in English football, our team is only as good as their weakest player. Over the years, this is a costly lesson that we have learned again and again. It only takes one weak person to get a lot of strong people killed in the zombie apocalypse (they better watch their backs when they are even near Gregory). Our team does know this, and more importantly they know that they are much stronger when they are together.

For the first half of the episode, we were able to see how strong they are together. Rosita tells them how to dismantle explosives and then the team just goes to work. They trust each other and they all rely on each other’s strengths. They also are good at improvising in any given moment. But most importantly, there is no weak team member there to accidently trigger the explosives and kill them all. They would never want Gregory with them in that situation.

But in the second half, our team encounters a possible weak link—Father Gabriel. We saw Father Gabriel taking all of the food and weapons from Alexandria, stealing a car and leaving by himself. We have no idea why he does this, but when the team finally figures out what he did, they start to have serious doubts. Is Gabriel a weak link now? In the past he certainly was, but last season he seemed to finally step up and become a functional member of the team.

Right after they discover the missing food and weapons, they discuss Gabriel.

Aaron: And we need to talk about Gabriel.

Rick: Where is he?

Tobin: He was on watch the night you all went to scavenge. I was supposed to take over for him in the morning. He wasn’t at his post.

Aaron: Pantry was cleared out and a car was gone.

Eric: No one’s seen him since.

Rosita: [Scoffs] That son of a b****. He stole our sh** and ran.

Tobin: That’s…what it looks like.

Michonne: Well, I don’t want to believe it.

Rick: I don’t believe it. That’s not Gabriel. He wouldn’t do that to us.

Rosita: I thought he changed, too, but it can’t be anything else.

Rick: Yes, it can.

(Later on, back in the Pantry)

Tara: I can’t believe he would just take our stuff and go. I mean, that’s – that’s not who he is.
Michonne: Well, he saw Olivia and Spencer die right in front of him.

Tara: I know. I just… He found his courage, you know. I want to believe he held on to it.

Later on in the scene, Rick notices a possible message from him that they would follow. But clearly, many on the team are wondering if Gabriel is trustworthy.

I have to admit that I would be feeling the same way as the skeptics in the group like Rosita. If Daryl had taken the food and weapons, I would have no doubt in my mind that he was up to something for the good of the group. But Gabriel? That is a much different story. He has been extremely unreliable in the past, and it wouldn’t be hard to believe that maybe he has slipped back into his old ways. The episode doesn’t tell us, but we will definitely find out in the next couple of weeks.

But this episode brings up a very important issue that is actually a central theme on the show. There is not a week that goes by on the show that doesn’t deal with the issue of character. What I mean by character is not only their external behaviors, but what is going on inside each person – where their hearts are.

One of my favorite places in the Bible that deals with issues of character is in the book of Proverbs. This book is one of several books that falls under the category of wisdom literature. This genre is basically about the contrast between wise and foolish behavior. Generally, Proverbs argues that wise behavior leads to good things and foolish behavior leads to bad things. Of course, life doesn’t always work this way, but for the most part I agree that your life will be much easier if you make wise choices. It also is true that, for the most part, your life will be harder when you make bad choices.
One of the biggest character issues in Proverbs is about reliability. The book argues that a person who lies all the time cannot be trusted. Whereas the person who tells the truth is much easier to trust. My favorite verse about this comes in chapter 25.

Putting confidence in an unreliable person in times of trouble is like chewing with a broken tooth or walking on a lame foot. (Proverbs 25:19, NLT)

I love the imagery here. When you have tooth pain, you can’t eat a steak very well. Or when you have a broken foot, it is much harder to walk. What the verse is saying is that you shouldn’t put confidence in the weak player on the team. The person who is unreliable should just stay on the bench because they are definitely just going to hurt the team.

The verse is talking about other people, but you could easily turn the verse around and ask how it applies to yourself. Are you a reliable person? When people trust you, are you going to let them down? Or to put it another way, are you the kind of person with character? Can people trust that you are going to do what you say you do?

Let’s face it, for the most part past behavior is one of the best indicators of future behavior. If you have been unreliable in the past, it is simply going to take a while for people to trust you in the future. If you are unreliable now, it is even going to take longer.

As Christians, we are told to forgive because we are forgiven. But that doesn’t always mean that we are going to trust or be trusted. When Apostle Paul was first converted to Christianity, he had a reputation of killing Christians. Can you imagine how Christians felt when he first showed up to church? It took almost 15 years after his conversion before he really went into church ministry, but even then people didn’t totally trust him. It probably also explains why he spent so much time traveling to the ends of the earth, far away from where he killed Christian leaders like Stephen. It took him a very long time to earn his reputation as a man of integrity. How did he do that? He demonstrated without fail, that he could be relied upon. He also ended up writing most of the books in the New Testament.

One of the most important questions we can ask of ourselves is, “Are we the type of person that others can rely on?” As Christians, we need to be people of character. We need to be the kind of people that in times of trouble others will come to. And there is no better way to share our faith than to demonstrate a Spirit-filled life that relies on Jesus.

SEASON 7, EPISODE 9 DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1) Do you think that Gabriel is actually stealing food and weapons in order to survive on his own? Why or why not?

2) If Gregory actually agreed to help Rick and his team, do you think that it would be a good idea for them to rely on him? Why or why not?

3) When Ezekiel refuses to join Rick, Daryl points out that eventually they will have to deal with Negan. If you agree with Daryl, why do you think that Ezekiel doesn’t see it this way?

4) Do you think that Ezekiel is a little naive? Why or why not?

5) How do you think Carol can influence this situation?

6) As the group discusses Gabriel’s actions, some think that he may have changed, while others think that he is still unreliable. How much does past behavior predict future behavior?

7) What do you think the verse in Proverbs is saying about character?

8) How is an unreliable person like a broken tooth or foot?

9) Are you the kind of person that people can rely on in times of trouble? Why or why not?

10) How does God demonstrate His reliability? In the past, the present and the future?

11) In what ways can you strive to become more reliable?

Thom McKee Jr. is a husband, father, pastor… and film geek (and brother of Jonathan McKee). Thom lives in Northern California with his wife and two kids.

About Jonathan McKee

president of The Source for Youth Ministry, is the author of over twenty books including the brand new If I Had a Parenting Do Over, 52 Ways to Connect with Your Smartphone Obsessed Kid; Sex Matters; The Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket; and youth ministry books like Ministry By Teenagers; Connect; and the 10-Minute Talks series. He has over 20 years youth ministry experience and speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers and parents on his websites, TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. You can follow Jonathan on his blog, getting a regular dose of youth culture and parenting help. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.
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