There have been several blog posts analyzing the contrast of legalism and grace between Valjean and Javert in the recent movie (and older musical and even older book) Les Miserables. I've been wanting to tackle the subject myself but I haven't seen the movie yet (do any of you want to volunteer to watch my kids so my wife and I can go?). So instead you can check out these posts.
But I am still going to hit this topic, just with a different backdrop. Wednesday the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) failed to elect any player to baseball's Hall of Fame. I already vented on Facebook, so I'll spare you my tirade. But this article by Jayson Stark at ESPN got my wheels spinning and turned my thoughts back to the subject of legalism and grace. Stark asks this fundamental question which then shapes how we view the Hall: do we want the Hall of Fame to be a museum or a shrine?
To me, baseball is practically a religion. I already wrote about one of baseball's "angels" and his effort to get into the Hall. And before about being child-like in our view of the game. Like any compelling drama, baseball has a diverse cast of characters- heroes and villains, or for the purposes of this argument saints and sinners- while trying to maintain an image of holiness outside its sacred walls.
Not much different than the church you or I go to, is it? We are just a mass of saints and sinners and our attitudes towards one another depends largely on to what degree we embrace legalism or grace.
The Hall of Fame voters made a statement against the steroid era by not enshrining any player to its stained glass shrine. The universal condemnation against all (assumed by the rejection of Mike Piazza-best hitting catchers in history, Jeff Bagwell-one of the most durable first basemen in history, and Craig Biggio-who had over 3000 hits) because of the recognized sin of a few (Barry Bonds-all time home run record holder and Roger Clemens-most Cy Young awards) despite the open repentance of some (Mark McGwire who said, "I wouldn't even have voted for myself").
On the other end of the spectrum are the vocal fans, more than willing to overlook a player's sins because of the statistics they produced or because he played for their favorite team (though I'm still having a hard time forgiving Sammy Sosa). It's hard to like a player who is standoffish when he's hitting .200, but if he hits 60 home runs in a season, suddenly he's not so bad.
While it may look like the latter group is extending grace towards these players, they are instead exhibiting the worst kind of legalism- that these players earned their forgiveness, that their performance speaks for itself, the the ends justified the means. The former group are more like Pharisees, upholding a measure of law that can never reasonably be met.
So who in this story is Jesus? Certainly not Bud Selig- he's more Pontius Pilate. To be quite honest, I have yet to see anyone come out and say to those accused of cheating the game, "I forgive you." I've seen forgiveness conditional on the assumption that others in the Hall have cheated. I've seen forgiveness in the guise of acceptance- "well, that's just the way it was in that era." But I haven't seen anyone rise above the petty arguments over statistics and legacies and forgive just because. The writers haven't. The fans haven't.
Which brings us back to our own position on the diamond. Is the sinner next to you in the dugout Sunday morning any better or worse than you? Is someone else putting up herculean numbers at the giving plate that deserve special recognition for their feat? Or are we all just players in this game and no one is keeping score?
My stats aren't worthy of induction. Thankfully, because of the grace of Jesus Christ, I don't ever have to worry about being voted in.