New York Yankees legend Mariano Rivera will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 21 as the first player to be unanimously selected. But this week, the five-time World Series winner was in Washington to make the pitch for Israel.
Rivera was on hand to appear at the annual Christians United For Israel summit, a gathering of the largest pro-Israel group in the United States. Other speakers included Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and (via satellite) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Rivera explained how his faith led him to develop a deep connection to Israel.
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“As a Christian, I do believe that the Lord gave us the Bible,” he said. “The Bible speaks about Israel. Everything — from New Testament, Old Testament — it’s all about Israel and the relationship his people have. So as a Christian, I understand that the chosen people of God is Israel — Jewish Israel. The country was made by him. All the other countries were made by men. This country was built by him for his people.”
Rivera said his bond with Israel was forged on two trips he made there: one with his family and one last summer with his church and a group of friends who are rabbis.
“Every time that I go to Israel, it blows my mind,” he said. “I wanted to see more, I wanted to understand more. I wanted to learn more. The Bible comes to life when you’re there.” He said he was particularly moved by visits to the Sea of Galilee and what is believed to be the site of the Sermon on the Mount.
He later added, “Every time I go there, I just want to go more. I want to be there every day, because that’s how powerful it is to feel the presence of the Lord …To me, it is amazing.”
After traveling to Israel, Rivera said he met Pastor John Hagee, the founder and chairman of CUFI, and “he inspired me even more to be alongside and support Israel, and be there for Israel. Why not? Now I understand the even bigger picture of what Israel means.”
Asked if he had received criticism for taking a position on what can be a polarizing issue, Rivera said he had not but that it wouldn’t matter if he did.
“If I do, I’m OK with that,” he said. “I know what I stand for: That won’t change. So, to me, criticism is more motivation to keep going forward — to push forward — for what I believe, for what I stand for. And again, that will make me even stronger.”
He said, “To me as an individual, it’s just my belief, my relationship with my lord Jesus, that everything that I do, is according to the Bible.” He later said, “They are the people of God. They are the chosen people, so I’m not going to be against God.”
He said of Israelis, “They want peace as we do. Love, respect, values as we do — as I do. Values for families as I do. So, they stand for everything that I believe.”
His message for others, he said, was, “I deeply, highly, encourage you to go to Israel and visit and see for your own benefit, for your own eyes, then you can judge.”
Read more: Washington Examiner