Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Matthew 20:1-16: Exploring a theology of football

Matthew 20:1-16

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage,[a] he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.[b] 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.[c] 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?[d] 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’[e] 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”[f]

The FIFA world cup in Brazil is progressing fast amidst the knock out pre quarter final stage and strong teams have already fallen by the way side even as new inexperienced teams with lesser rankings are making surprising strides forward. The Brazilian people are divided into the ones who want to showcase Brazil as a country capable of conducting such an extravagant sporting event and those who say that food and not a football is what everyone wants on their plate.

Pope Francis has come out with a statement on football and world cup himself and it tries to say that solidarity with the poor and people should be the primary concerns of such a sporting event. Such a team event has to be played with a spirit of camaraderie and foster goodwill. The message goes on to say that "sport is not only a form of entertainment, but also a tool to communicate the values ​​that promote the good of the human person and help to build a more peaceful and fraternal coexistence" and that "football can and should be a school for the formation of a "culture of encounter", leading to harmony and peace among people – teaching as it does the value of fair play and authentic team effort – values, the message concludes, without which all of society is damaged."

Can football have a theology and does God have anything to do with football? What we should realise is that football as we see it on television as an event is not what football actually is. Football is played on the streets, in backyards, schools, churches and homes. It brings people together but also has a Christian spirit hidden in the game.

Matthew 20:1-16 talks about the owner who wanted work in his vineyard done. He hires people in the morning but then realises that several need to be hired at several times because there are people without work. His mind to give work is criticized finally by the first timers who complain that despite being out in the sun from the beginning, they get the same wage that is given to the last timers. The owner then asks them as to what their problem is. What is it to them as he has already given them what he had promised. Why are they concerned with what the others are getting? This passage can always be used by the rich to suggest that Christianity is not a religion of the rich and that it is following Marxist thoughts in justifying the lesser work done by workers. It is another thing that this passage as also the beatitudes along with several other passages of the bible were already existent much earlier than Marx. The passage also suggests a more just way of looking at work and life as such and does not speak about working and not working but putting the usually elusive justice to work in the situation.

This is where understanding the theological message of the game of football offers some help. The game of football is played with eleven players in a team, each player having his or her role to play. But the most intriguing part of the game is the substitution of players and in some cases the super subs who come at almost the end of the match and steal the thunder from other players by scoring the all elusive goal. The other players can say like the workers in the passage that they were there from the beginning of the match and how can a substitute who comes in at the last moment get the lime light and equal payment?

Football is not just a man’s game or a game played in expensive stadiums, and in world cup like situations. Rather football is played wherever people want to come together. It is played by ordinary people who come together in solidarity and a spirit of hope and reconciliation. It is not war on the field but belief in human potential and team spirit.

The bible passage is clear. It is the master’s prerogative to pay how much ever he wants to whomever. The pay is not based on who was there first but on recurring justice. It is the inclusion of the excluded and the bringing about of joy and cheer to the faces of all. This is a season therefore to feel this excitement of sitting out so that someone can play, knowing that when we play, we play for the team and that the first will be last and the last will be first. It is not to take away the entrepreneurial spirit of anyone but to rather say that our toils will be rewarded when others also come into the picture.

(Picture courtesy http://www.e-pao.net/epGallery.asp?id=1&src=Sports/Football/Football201202)

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