The World Cup Final (and the 'problem' with winning)
It has been a fantastic week to be South African! The World Cup win was as thrilling as it was unexpected. I think most of us felt, after the performance in the semis, that England would lift the William Webb Ellis trophy.
As my ties are to South Africa, you can imagine the social media frenzy that followed the victory. It amazes me how quickly the internet generates jokes, memes, GIFs following notable global events.
It was heartening to see the celebrations, to hear the inspirational story of Siya Kolisi. The captain's speeches were heartfelt. They expressed what is best about us (even if some of the England players struggled to get the silver medal over their heads!). It was heartwarming to listen to Prince Harry address the South African dressing room, though disappointed he must have been. It is hard to lose.
And he was right. South Africa does need it right now with its ongoing issues around violence, political wrangling, poverty and inequality, and poor governance.
Much has been made of Siya Kolisi's faith. It is good news that he believes in Jesus. To see him lift the trophy with the name of Jesus etched carefully in his wrist-wrapping was hearwarming. It was also heartening to see the wives of South African players circled in prayer with little heed given to cultural, race, or language distinctions.
Though all of this is good, we should sound a warning here. It is easy – as history shows us – to fall into the trap of thinking that Jesus is on the side of the victors. Too quickly we fall into the trap of thinking Jesus plays the same games we do.
For sure, Jesus is happy for South Africa right now. Like Prince Harry, Jesus would agree, we need it! But let us not for a moment think that Jesus gave us that victory because we're the more faithful group of people or that we are more blessed by God because we won.
Competition and winning are like drugs for humans. The pursuit of victory enthrals us. We love the thought of being the best and, the shadow side of that, we sometimes enjoy lauding our successes over others. Striving to be the best, being competitive, fuels us to accomplish astonishing things. And being victorious does shine a light on inspirational stories that have fueled that success. In this instance, the story of Siya Kolisi.
Again though, these are very much human games. Their power lies in highlighting what is best about us: the coming together of nations; the setting aside of differences; and shared love (in this instance, rugby!). It rightly accentuates a question that should drive us forward – why don't we get along like this more often? Is it not wonderful when we express unity in diversity? The more profound power of such victory is that it presses a fatigued nation forward in the pursuit of a society that is good and hopeful – not just for some, but for all.
These blessings are not evidence of God's preference for winners! God didn't corral the cosmic forces to ensure SA won!
In a short while, we will remember Jesus born into this world. Everything about his understated entrance undermines our categories of winners and losers, successful and unsuccessful, and important and unimportant. Born in a stable (loser circumstances!), he spent a lifetime siding with the failures, the outcasts, and the disregarded. In the words of Simon and Garfunkel – reworking the Beatitudes: Blessed are the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on.
I imagine Jesus is thrilled for South Africa. But, when you think of his heart, I guess his arm would have been around the English once that whistle was blown. Jesus is joyous when we find joy, Jesus feels our hurt when we are hurting, and Jesus does not play our game of winners and losers.