It was the bottom of the last (6th) inning and the score was tied 0 to 0 in the last game of a 2-out-of-3 Little-League championship series. Jesus Martinez was coming to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. He had struck out his two previous at-bats, but was determined to do whatever it took to give his team the victory. While franticly dropping to the ground to avoid being hit by a blazing fastball, his bat inadvertently fouled off the first pitch. Then after swinging wildly at another inside “heater”, he was in an unenviable 0-2 count. He momentarily wished that he had been hit by the first pitch. “We would have won the game!” As this thought reverberated in his consciousness, the next pitch was on its way. As if the action sequence was proceeding in slow motion, he could see clearly that the ball was coming right at him, and from all indication it was another blazing fastball. In an instant Jesus was grimacing from excruciating pain. But with the rush of coaches and players advancing toward his supine body with smiles of appreciation and jubilation in their faces and antics, his agony subsided in a rare moment of selfless joy that he had “taken one for the team”.
Could he have avoided the passion, should he have? His ribs were healed in about three days, but many years later, the images of former teammates would sometimes remind him of what purpose was served with that momentary act of unsolicited courage, when a whole group triumphed because he “took one for the team”.
Having been a professional baseball player, I know first hand of the sharp contrast between the admonishing scent of a perilously close 98-MPH fastball and the comical refrain from the dugout, beckoning a fear-struck batter to “take one for the team”. No one would deliberately subject himself to the bludgeoning effect of any high velocity blunt (or sharp) instrument to the body, unless there was an extremely intense commitment to do so. More fights have been initiated by batters who were almost hit rather than by those who had been hit, because the offended player seemed more mentally incensed by the trauma that could have happened instead of physical trauma that did occur. But, in any case, the sacrifice of one’s individual self for the collective good of the team warrants noteworthy praise from all who can appreciate what that suffering entails.
So how can anyone actually empathize with what the real Jesus (Big J) did for his Team-universal? He had not yet experienced every mental, physical, moral temptation to which humanity was vulnerable, so the degradation at his semi-final demonstration over mortal and material limitation must leave no doubt to the testimony of the senses that life certainly does not abide in the flesh. His supreme sacrifice assures mankind that they too are capable of overcoming that extreme trauma of the flesh (through the consciousness of life in spirit). But his ability to triumph at the end of that passionate struggle was predicated on the way he lived his life prior to his encounter with such extreme circumstances.
When I went to see Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of Christ, I was very familiar with the way Jesus lived his life, the lessons he taught through his sermons, parables, and healings. And it is obvious to me that it was his 33 years of living in consecrated obedience to his Father God that equipped him with the spiritual understanding to override the cumulative effects of the passion, the crucifixion and death, all of which being superseded by his Resurrection and final Ascension beyond the mortal grasp of things.
All that being said, it is apparent that the emphasis of Mel Gibson’s movie is not so much a preceptive approach to how Jesus was able to sustain a spiritual presence to overcome his mental and physical struggle, but rather to exacerbate the extreme cruelty that he had to encounter that proved his sincere and unflinching love for his fellow man. If I hadn’t seen Gibson’s “Passion…”, I would still be appreciative of the enduring lessons that the gospels depict for satisfactory spiritual enlightenment and endorsement. But after watching the dramatization of the suffering that the most innocent of men had to endure at the hands of his ignorant brethren, it is easier to submit to the simple suffering that patience and tolerance forego in order to preserve a semblance of peace that may be elicited from any simple act of kindness and forgiveness. If I ever reach a point of frustration or desperation about any mundane circumstance in my life, I might just mentally replay any part of Gibson’s “Passion” and recall how Big “J” “took one for the team”.
Author of the book “The Principle of Baseball”