By Bob Hiller –
Sammy Sosa hasn’t been to Chicago in 11 years. This man, who was right at the center of one of the most provocative sports stories in my generation, who brought baseball joy—which Cubs’ fans had so longed for—back to the Windy City, hasn’t been there for over a decade. Instead, according to a recent Sports Illustrated “where-are-they-now” story, Slammin’ Sammy has become somewhat of a globetrotter. The magazine caught up with Sosa in Dubai, living it up in luxurious restaurants, drinking expensive booze, basking in the glory of his wealth. SI quotes Sosa, “‘Look what I am today,’ Sosa says, motioning toward the opulence around him, ‘This is my life, and I don’t take garbage from nobody. I do what I want.’” Sosa, it seems, has it all. Except Chicago. He’s not been to Chicago in 11 years.
At times it seems as though Sosa doesn’t care. But the deeper the article goes, the closer to the surface Sammy’s resentment rises. After all he did for that city, they don’t seem to want him back. “’I passed Ernie Banks for most home runs in Chicago Cubs history,’ Sosa says. ‘He has a statue, and I don’t have nothing.’” But it is not as though Sosa has really earned a place back there. After all, those home runs came from chemically enhanced arms. Though he was never caught cheating with steroids, it seems pretty obvious to many that Sosa juiced. He was later caught corking his bat (that is, he filled his bat with cork to make it lighter and give it more pop). He left his infamous 13 year career in Chicago on shaky terms. He walked away before the door could hit him on the way out.
So, how could Sosa ever return to Chicago? Simple: Repent. Admit he cheated, confess that the home run race with Mark McGwire, as fun as it was, lacked integrity. Just say you are sorry, and Cubs will likely let you sing during the seventh inning stretch on Sammy Sosa day. “’It’s never been our position that we want Sammy to wear a hair shirt and sit in front of Wrigley and be punished for weeks on end,’ says a team source. ‘This is simply, “I messed up, and there’s something to learn from it, and I’d love to get back in the fold.” It would take one sentence.’”
Sosa’s response from the luxury in Dubai, “’I never failed a drug test,’ he says today. ‘So why are you asking me about that, when they don’t have nothing on Sosa?’” In other words, he’s without sin, thus, he has no reason to repent. So, in his “innocence” he will stay out of Chicago.
Perhaps there is a lesson here on repentance. Every week in church we begin with these words drawn from St. John himself: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8-9). As we enter into God’s presence, where His word is preached and His sacraments are given, we are confronted by our sinfulness. This reality keeps us from the presence of God. Yet, surprisingly, trying to hide this sin only makes matters worse! God knows our guilt and our sin, and yet that is why He has called us into His presence: to forgive it! He calls us to absolve us, to bring us back to the death and resurrection of our baptism, to physically cleanse us with the blood of Christ at the Sacrament of the Altar. He calls us in our sinfulness to give our sins to Jesus. “Jesus comes for sinners, so you’d better be one,” as President Harrison once preached.
This, of course, is not to celebrate sin, but to deal with it in the only effective way possible: confessing it to the One who knows where to take it. The problem, however, is that we prefer to show up and be celebrated! We want others to see our holiness and success. We don’t want to relive the guilt of the past. Forgiveness is great, if you think you are a sinner. But if you are Sammy Sosa and think you must maintain your innocence, then your innocence is what keeps you out! John goes on to say, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (I John 1:10). Sure, sitting around, denying your sinfulness may not look all that bad to the world. You might enjoy the glory of your pride, sipping cocktails in Dubai. But you will do so outside the Kingdom of God and the mercy of Christ.
This is not to say that repentance is the one condition you must perfectly achieve if you want Jesus to love you. No, you are forgiven and saved all by God’s grace alone on account of Christ alone. But to deny the Law’s accusations which drive us to repentance is to deny the need for forgiveness and the need for Jesus. The problem here is that, by rejecting the Word of both Law and Gospel, people are actually locking themselves outside the Kingdom. As C. S. Lewis said somewhere, “Hell is locked from the inside.”
So, Sammy will keep himself locked in the proud luxury of his bitterness. He will glory in who he has made himself out to be. He will boast of his accomplishments and tout his innocence. But it is his “innocence” that keeps him locked out of Wrigley. So, it is with us before God. The only innocence we can bank on is Christ’s for us. “If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves…But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:1-2).