One of my favorite movies of all time is called “42”. It’s the story of the Hall of Fame baseball player Jackie Robinson, who was the first African-American in MLB. There’s one part in the movie where the Brooklyn Dodgers are playing the Cincinnati Reds and before the trip, “Pee Wee” Reese, the shortstop, went into the office of the General Manager and had a conversation that he was perplexed because he was going to have family at the game and he had received hate mail that stated if he played with Jackie Robinson he would be basically disowned. Branch Rickey, the General Manager, asked him how many letters he had received. Pee Wee replied that he got one letter. Branch then went to the file and pulled out files upon files of hate mail about Jackie Robinson that threatened Jackie’s life and his family. This awakened Pee Wee to the truth that everything he thought about the way things were was a lie. His eyes were opened to the truth that all people are equal and his belief system was transformed from one that divided people by the color of their skin into one that united all people because we are all children of God.
The readings today reveal to us some profound truths that are relevant in our world today. In the first reading from Acts we hear of those who preached that unless you follow the tradition and Mosaic Laws of the Jews you could not be saved. The Apostles recognized that this Mosaic Law and tradition were things that needed to be changed because they knew that Jesus came to save all people, and the old way of thinking was dividing the faithful, not uniting them. So basically they sent out a “worldwide” memo via Paul and the other traveling Apostles saying that the law of circumcision was no longer valid because it divided the nations instead of uniting them and this was not the command of Jesus. They did not send Paul alone, but sent other representatives with him, because they knew that this was not going to sit well with those who had lived their whole lives believing that their law and way of thinking were absolute truths and now things were going to change. So basically Paul had back-up to help him bring about the change.
Just like today, no one likes to change. We want things all wrapped up in a nice package that we can grasp and understand completely. But Jesus comes to save all of us and in doing so makes all things new. Jesus challenged their ways of thinking back then and continues to challenge us today. Therefore, my friends, we are always in a state of renewal to look at our rituals and traditions and laws that govern the Church, the country, the world, our personal lives, and ask: Are they uniting the Body of Christ or dividing it? What this will do is cause us to stretch out the margins of who’s in and who’s out and this will cause change. There will be those who just can’t do it because their thinking is so conditioned and change creates too much fear and anxiety in their hearts. So those who are not open to the truth that we are all equal in the eyes of God will build walls and rules to exclude those who don’t fit into what they feel is worthy or savable. The peace they find is temporary and not the peace of Christ, but the peace the world gives.
In the Gospel reading today Jesus tells us that He gives us the peace the world cannot give. One of the things I learned from having a marketing degree is that marketing uses advertising to sell you stuff and make you believe that in order to be happy or have peace you have to have their product and all your troubles will go away. But Jesus tells us that the world is lying to us and that the peace He gives is not a kind of peace that makes all of our troubles go away, but is a peace that allows us to stand firm and not let our hearts be troubled when we go against the grain of the world that divides us based upon rules, traditions, and ways of thinking that are conditioned through fear. The only way to achieve this peace is to love God and keep His word to love each other.
In the movie “42”, when the Dodgers were taking the field for that game in Cincinnati, there was a young boy all excited about the game and everyone was happy until Jackie Robinson took the field and everyone started booing him and screaming out racial remarks. The young boy looked perplexed as his smile and joy turned into hate and dissension because he saw his father next to him shouting out words of hate and so he too learned to hate and divide. The boy wasn’t born to hate, he became conditioned to hate by the example of the world he lived in. This is why we are always in a state of renewal, so that our conditional way of thinking is always being stretched to the margins. What happened next was Pee Wee went over to Jackie Robinson on the field as people were now booing him as well, and he said to Jackie that they were equal because they both just wanted to play ball. As Pee Wee smiled and put his arm around Jackie, the law that divided them, the condition that Pee Wee had to racism, was torn down, and both Pee Wee and Jackie found the peace that the world cannot give. May the peace of Christ be with you always as we go forth to love and serve the Lord through loving and serving each other.