Six years ago, on Jackie Robinson Day 2013, noted baseball writer Joe Sheehan began his column with these words.
Earlier this week, I watched a screening of “42”, a dramatized re-telling of Jackie Robinson’s first year with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Critical to the film were extensive shots of crowds at Robinson’s ballgames, some cheering, some on the fence and uncomfortable, and many booing and jeering Robinson using the kinds of epithets that were a lot more common and a lot less jarring nearly 70 years ago. The fans’ treatment of Robinson — which, at least as depicted on film, was considerably more mixed than you might think — is an important part of the story. Robinson reached the majors at a time when the South was still ruled by Jim Crow, when casual racism was common to the North, when “separate but equal” was still years from being overturned in Brown vs. Board of Education.
In the story of Jesus, as in the saga of Jackie Robinson, crowds figured prominently. In accomplishing their respective missions both Jesus and Jackie had to face the crowds without being deterred by the crowds. While both were certainly hurt and angered by the hateful and degrading words the crowds shouted at them, they could not let their anger degenerate into bitterness.
In this, the words of Maya Angelou are instructive. “Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”
On Jackie Robinson Day 2019, as we journey with Jesus towards Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, let us recognize that Jesus and Jackie felt things, including anger, deeply. Let us revere them for the way their anger burned things clean as well as for their refusal to let their anger become destructive bitterness. Let us pray that like them, we will know when and how to be angry and how to keep that anger from descending into bitterness.
(April 15 is Jackie Robinson Day because on this day in 1947 Jackie played his first game with the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking major league baseball’s color line.)