She did it first on Nov. 16, 1952. Charlie Brown explains to Lucy: “All you have to do is hold the ball. Then I come running and kick it.”
She’s not so sure. “I don’t know if this is such a good idea.”
Charlie Brown comes running, but, at the last moment, Lucy pulls back the football, explaining to the prostrate kicker: “I was afraid your shoes might be dirty, Charlie Brown. I don’t want anyone with dirty shoes kicking my new football.”
He tells her: “Don’t you ever do that again! Do you want to kill me? This time, hold it tight!” She does, so tightly, he kicks a ball, which doesn’t move, and tumbles onto his back.
“I held it real tight, Charlie Brown.”
He laments: “I’m not going to get up. I’m going to lie here for the rest of the day.”
Lucy would continue some variant of the football snatch in almost every subsequent year of the strip, all the way to 1999. The same would happen nine times in animation. Drawing the strip for the last time, Charles Schultz said that he realized, sadly, that Charlie Brown would never kick that football, but, he also thought, having him succeed would have been a disservice to the character.
Why is that? Perhaps because Charlie Brown is something of an everyman, and trying to kick that football reveals who he is. Depending on your perspective, either he will not learn from the past or he refuses to give up on the future. For the Christian, it’s the latter, which is what makes Charlie Brown something of a Christ-figure: He doesn’t close in upon himself; he doesn’t give up on others; he lives in hope.
Consider the commandment God gives through Moses: “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2). And then, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:18). We are told to be like God, which is to love like God. Humans become most truly themselves, most truly human, when we strive to imitate God, when we love and give, when we love to give, when we give love.
Humans become most truly themselves when we strive to imitate God, when we love and give, when we love to give, when we give love.
Jesus rejects all of the petty reasoning that would make us comfortable closing in upon ourselves. Love and goodness are always diffusive. They don’t draw back. That is the mark of their divine origin. It is the vision of what it means to be human, revealed in Christ. “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
One could put all of this into another key. As God is the deepest reality there is, we humans have only one choice. We either choose to be like God or we choose to be…not at all. We call the confirmation of the first choice, heaven. The second choice leads to the nothingness that we name hell.
The final football gag appeared in the strip on Oct. 24, 1999. At the last moment, Lucy is called away, but she asks her brother Rerun to play the trick on Charlie Brown for her. Back in the house, she asks him: “What happened? Did you pull the ball away? Did he kick it? What happened?”
He replies, “You’ll never know.”
It is, after all, the great question that life poses. Am I a Charlie Brown or a Lucy? Do I love and give as God does, as Christ did? Or do I, at the last moment, pull back into myself?
Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18 1 Corinthians 3:16-23 Matthew 5: 28-48