In the 1919 World Series, there were supposedly seven Chicago White Sox players who conspired to “throw” the games through poor play for a $5,000 bribe. There was an eighth player, “Shoeless Joe Jackson” who was wrongly accused, as well. He was uneducated, illiterate and simply talented. In the series, Jackson hit .375 (series record), committed no errors with 12 put outs and threw a man out at home plate, hardly the work of an accomplice. Baseball commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, saw things different, Jackson would be banned from Baseball forever. Though erroneous, by Jackson’s account, an exchange of words between a young fan (from a crowd of young boys from 6 – 16 years in age) waiting outside the Chicago courthouse after the Grand Jury indictment hearings, went something like this: “Say it ain’t so, Joe, say it ain’t so”. In the movie Eight Men Out, Shoeless Joe replies, “I’m afraid it is kid”. In truth, the whole exchange was exaggerated by an over aggressive sportswriter. The boy did ask the question, Shoeless Joe never responded. The coined phrase, “say it ain’t so, Joe” has been engraved in our cultural memory. A man accused of wrong, labeled and credited with an infamous phrase. In truth, Shoeless Joe was an exceptional ball player who played the game right. Kennesaw Mountain Landis was trying to save the integrity of the game that had been blackened by the White Sox scandal, the boy who asked the question just wanted a hero to believe in, hoping that he was authentic; because, boys need authentic heroes to live their lives like champions.
Jesus sat with his disciples and others, He saw a young boy standing near; since children in that day had little rights and privileges, the boy had to be at best, a disenfranchised youth to be so close at hand, a despised street urchin an enemy of cultural society. Children with parents would have been home, working. I’m sure the boy was clothed in dirt, missing a few teeth, little to no hair because his diet consisted of only the scraps and waste that he could find on the street, he smelled bad and was quit surprised when the “Lion of the Tribe” called him to his side. Sitting the lad on his lap, Jesus begins to give us a lesson about our attitude and perspective. Read the account in the Book of Matthew. In the middle of the lesson, Jesus speaks these words: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven”. If it wasn’t so, why would He have said it? Those who sought to save the integrity of their society judged Jesus wrongly; looking back, we can only say about our own sometimes-willing unforgiveness, “Say it ain’t so”. Now, I can only imagine that when all the talking was done, Jesus stood the lad up, rubbed his head like a dad would and whispered something in his ear like, “live like a champion, for you are a child of the king”; and, a man of means, standing in the crowd who witnessed this exchange, grabbed the youth as people dispersed and desperately needing to know what the Lion had whispered, took him home, washed him, clothed him and cared for him till the words became true. This may be a simple exaggeration; but then again, as Abraham Lincoln once said: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
There are times when we need a champion and times when we need someone to encourage us to live like a child of the King. But all of the time, we need to remember there are angels watching over us; and, when we struggle to make sense of it all, and what on earth do we pray; we need to remember what Paul told the Romans: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Ain’t it true?