August 1, 2010
Last Tuesday, we went to the Nationals game expecting to see Stephen Strasburg pitch. The game was delayed for a few minutes and people – 40,000+ people who had come to see him pitch – were getting restless. It was a fan seated right below us who noticed it first. “Who,” she said, “is that on the mound?” Not Strasburg, that was for sure. As people noticed, the booing started. It was brief, and then everyone sat back down and watched what turned out to be a really good game. The Nationals beat Atlanta, and not only that, the pitcher who had been booed – Miguel Batista – turned out to be voted the player of the game, allowing no runs scored through five innings, quite a feat for someone accustomed to one or two innings at the most as a relief pitcher.
After the game, Batista was asked about the booing. He said that it didn’t really bother him, that the fans had come to see Strasburg, so they were naturally disappointed. It was, he said, like coming to see Miss Universe and getting Miss Iowa. The quote turned into a real media frenzy, and you can see more about this on youtube youtube By the way, did you know that Batista is a writer with two published books, one a collection of his poetry and the other a thriller about a serial killer?
Of course, Batista is not Strasburg. He has had a great career (19 years in the majors) but at some point he has recognized what he can do – the Miss Iowa equivalent of a pitcher – and does it very well. One can imagine him standing there at the mound, hearing the boos, telling himself that it’s nothing personal, and maybe coming up with the Miss Iowa comparison. What a clever use of his imagination and sense of humor. He had a big, enormous job to do, and simply had to find a way to put the booing out of his mind, to avoid taking it personally, refusing to engage in any negative self-talk that could have led to his defeat.
Jesus of course had the quintessential big, enormous job to do. The Jewish people wanted a Messiah – a Strasburg type messiah. They wanted the big gun, the first century Jewish equivalent of a pitcher with the 100 mph fast ball. They wanted a dominating force that could play power politics – not a rabbi who would wander around doing oddball activities, like his visit the home of Zaccheus, a persona non grata if there ever was one. Jesus finally turns to them and says basically, look, this is what I’m here for: to seek and save the lost. Implicit of course was an invitation that they see themselves as lost, but they couldn’t manage that, nor could they imagine why Jesus would be at Zaccheus’ home. Jesus managed not to take their misconception of what the messiah should be doing personally. He stayed focused on his mission, refusing to be sidetracked or disheartened by the confusion, misunderstanding, or betrayal of others, finally asking God to forgive the people, “for they know not what they do.”
Regardless of whether we feel misunderstood, the real question is whether we can hold firm to our own sense of purpose when our work is discouraged or criticized. For the more we step out, doing something different, or even doing something the world expects us to do but in a slightly different way, the more we may face the boos of the crowd. The boos may or may not turn to cheers, later in the game. It’s up to each of us as individuals to ignore the boos, to stay focused on our own goals, and to refuse to let any negativity impact how we play the game. Instead we must choose to stay connected with those who would disparage us, and inviting them to join the only game really worth playing, the game where God is playing too.