I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help myself. I’m looking forward to the start of the World Cup. I seem to have forgotten the perennial disappointment that comes with supporting England. So here I am. Again. Hoping that just maybe this time…?
I remember four years ago watching Spain vs. Netherlands in a rerun of the previous final. Spain, the reigning champions, were routed 5-1, but it was Robin Van Persie’s sublime goal that the game is remembered for. It is difficult to do it justice, so, if you don’t recall, you’ll have to watch the replays. Van Persie was at full sprint chasing down Daley Blind’s in-swinging pass that seemed too high and too long. But the unexpected is the canvas for the inexplicable. He launched himself at the ball to score with a perfect diving swan header from the edge of the box.
The goal was praised and dissecting from every conceivable angle: airtime, flightpath, speed, distance, determination and stamina. In the weeks that followed, and to the frustration of parents around the world, children spent hours diving on muddy fields and in playgrounds attempting to recreate history. Of course, no one possibly could. Even if they did manage to score a goal that looked similar, it would lack the significance, history and stage, and it would be rehearsed, not improvised.
What’s this got to do with welcoming a stranger? The answer is Van Persie’s secret. Though overexcited football pundits might have you believe he’s a clandestine demigod, imbued with unique footballing intelligence and skill, the truth is that his success was determined by his commitment and practice. Van Persie was commissioned to score goals, whenever and however he could. To answer the call, he trained in preparation for the unexpected. We have been commissioned to love.
And the questions we must scrutinise ourselves with are, ‘How committed to Jesus are we?’, ‘How radical do we dare to be?’
If we are to answer Jesus’s call, if we are to walk like him; it will take practice and determination. It will cost us early starts and late nights. It will require us to give freely, to carry burdens, and to show up when everyone else has stayed away. It may cost us our pride and status, but be reassured, for we will discover our identity and learn to see others as Jesus did, with love and compassion. If we are to become Christlike, we must find new ways to uphold his command to ‘love our neighbour’ and to continue in his tradition of expanding our sense of neighbourhood. We must practice because love is our goal and because there is no blueprint for the inexplicable.
When I read the stories of Jesus praising the faith of a Roman Centurion (a pagan responsible for the oppression of the very people the Messiah was supposed to free), eating with Zacchaeus (a man who colluded with Rome and stole from his own people) or the numerous times he accepted and championed the causes of those that no one else would, those who were on the wrong side of the law, I comfort myself with the lie that I would have done the same. Then I tell myself that the situations I face today are more complicated and nuanced, bemoaning the fact that Jesus didn’t provide an example of how to ‘deal’ with transgender people or what to do with refugees.
These are our unexpected curveballs; opportunities to show God’s inexplicable grace. These are the moments we practice for. And as we learn to love God, our neighbours and ourselves, we will begin to look like Christ. We will act with compassion towards all people. We will fight injustice whenever it rears its head. We will clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the prisoner and welcome the stranger. Not because there’s a rule that says we must. But because they are character traits of people committed to the law that holds everything together.
That law is love.
Encourage someone this week with a positive post-it, handwritten note or DM.