The following article entitled The Jackie Robinson Story was written by author Eric Metaxas for the April 15, 2013 Breakpoint reading ( http://www.breakpoint.org / a ministry of Prison Fellowship).
The words are famous even among those who know little about baseball: “I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.” They were spoken by Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey to the man whom he’d chosen to break baseball’s color barrier: Jackie Robinson.
We see this famous scene in the new movie, “42,” a biopic about Robinson. “42”—named for the number Robinson wore on his uniform—is a fine and memorable film starring Chadwick Boseman as Robinson and Harrison Ford as the immortal Branch Rickey. But the film all but omits the most significant factor in Jackie Robinson’s ability to endure almost unbearable insults and physical attacks on the field: namely his strong Christian faith.
Branch Rickey wasn’t the first person to teach Robinson that keeping his temper was more powerful than letting it blow. As I note in my new book, Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness, while he was a student at Pasadena Junior College, “Jackie met a Methodist preacher named Karl Downs. Downs knew that Jackie was a Christian and taught him that exploding in anger was not the Christian answer to injustice. But he explained that a life truly dedicated to Christ was not submissive; on the contrary, it was heroic… Downs eventually led Jackie to a deeper faith in Jesus Christ. He began to see that the path to justice would be done not with fists and fury but with love and restraint.”
As “42” opens, we see Jackie Robinson sitting in the office of Brooklyn Dodgers manager Branch Rickey hearing the incredible news that Rickey wants Jackie to play for the Dodgers. Then Rickey acts out the vicious varieties of bigotry Jackie will face from white hotel managers, restaurant waiters, and fellow ballplayers—insults he will have to face with dignity.
How much more dramatic this scene would have been had “42” told the whole story. Rickey knew that Robinson shared his devout Christian faith, and wanted to reinforce the spiritual dimensions of the battle into which the two men were about to step. So Rickey pulled out a copy of a book by Giovanni Papini, “Life of Christ.” He flipped to the passage in which Papini discusses the Sermon on the Mount. There he referred to Jesus’ call to “turn the other cheek” as “the most stupefying of Jesus’ revolutionary teachings.”
Rickey’s faith told him that injustice had to be fought wherever it was found. As for Jackie Robinson, he believed that God had chosen him for this noble purpose. And he knew that if he committed himself to doing this great thing, God would give him the strength he needed to see it through.
Day after day, Jackie Robinson’s faith fueled his ability to play great baseball. And night after night, he got down on his knees, asking God for strength in the face of unrelenting hatred.
The reason I include Jackie Robinson in a book about some of the greatest men who ever lived is not because he played great baseball, but because he engaged in a heroic sacrifice. Jackie Robinson followed Jesus and sacrificed his right to fight back.
If you’ve got young baseball fans in your family or among your friends, take them to see “42,” which by the way is rated PG-13 for the evil language shouted at Robinson on the ball field. And then I hope you’ll also consider giving them a copy of my book, Seven Men and Their Secret of Greatness (Eric Metaxas). They’ll learn why Jackie Robinson changed America for the better. He did it by living out, on and off the baseball field, the revolutionary words of Jesus: Turn the other cheek.
Matthew 5:38-39 — (Jesus said), “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
I Peter 3:17 — For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
Matthew 6:12 — And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Our Father in heaven, as we are forgiven by you, may we forgive all who wrong and offend us. Help us remember that no one can harm us without doing himself a far greater injury in your sight, so that we may be moved to compassion for them instead of anger, moved to pity rather than a desire for revenge. May we not be tempted to rejoice when they are troubled, nor be grieved when they prosper. We will not benefit from the downfall of our enemies, so we pray that you have mercy on them, and then also give us the grace to forgive them from our heart. AMEN. –Martin Luther
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