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What James Earl Jones Taught Me About Identity

Their ideas about who the Messiah would be were garbage compared to who the Messiah actually was.

The year I was born, the greatest movie in sports history debuted: The Sandlot. The plot revolved around a new kid in town (Scotty Smalls) and a group of young baseball players (led by Benny “the Jet” Rodriguez) destined for a summer of shenanigans in the 1960s. Their main adventure involved hitting a prized baseball signed by Babe Ruth over the fence of Mr. Mertle, “the meanest old man who ever lived,” and attempting to retrieve it from his backyard using more and more desperate tactics. After accidentally letting Mr. Mertle’s guard dog loose and destroying half the town, the boys finally came face to face with Mr. Mertle, played by none other than James Earl Jones.

As Smalls and Benny tell Mr. Mertle the story of their signed baseball being obliterated, he offers to trade them for one of his own baseballs. Their initial reaction is one of skepticism. After smirking quietly to one another as they motion to the chewed-up remnant of a ball, Benny answers by saying, “That’s really nice of you, but that ball really is signed by Babe Ruth.” What they didn’t realize is that Mr. Mertle had offered them something far better than they could have dreamed- a “Murderer’s Row” baseball signed by the entire 1927 Yankees Team, including Babe Ruth. Despite the wild legends that they had been told about who Mr. Mertle was, he turned out to be someone who could offer them so much more than they could have ever imagined.

Before moving on, I would love for you to read Matthew 22:41-46 for yourself if you have not done so recently.

This passage is confusing and took me some time to sift through. What exactly is Jesus asking here? He seems to be like some kind of riddling Sphinx, waiting to annihilate his opponents once they give the wrong answer to his question. Yet a closer look reveals how, much like the young boys in The Sandlot, the limited perspective of the Pharisees clouded their judgment about the true identity of the promised Messiah (or “deliverer”).

Jesus knew the answer the Pharisees would give to his first question- Whose son is the Messiah? This was a fact with which they were extremely familiar: “the son of David.” In other words, they knew that the Messiah would come from the family line of David. Jesus then takes the answer that he expected (son of David) and reveals to them- using their own Scripture- that their understanding was incomplete. After quoting a Psalm by David, Jesus asks why David would call his own son “Lord” (a behavior that would not have happened in their culture). The real answer to the question is that Jesus is the son of David because He was born in the line of David as a man and that Jesus is also the Lord of David because He is God.

The Pharisees were expecting a Messiah to liberate them from the hands of their earthly enemies, but God was offering them something far greater. Though they should have known better than anyone else who the Messiah would be, they were blind to the realities being revealed through Jesus. Their ideas about who the Messiah would be were garbage compared to who the Messiah actually was. God was offering the Pharisees the Murderer’s Row baseball, but their tunnel-vision caused them to have eyes only for their chewed-up baseball that paled in comparison.

Will you cling to your slobbery, dirty, and worthless baseball when Mr. Mertle gives you the opportunity to accept his Murderer’s Row baseball? Will you recognize the opportunity God provides through the real Jesus when it “spits on your shoes?” How will you respond when confronted with Jesus’ true identity?

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