Lent Day 36: John 13-14

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When I was at school I played football (soccer, for those who think football is an egg-shaped ball game) in the playground nearly every lunch break. Sometimes it was on concrete with a tennis ball, sometimes on the playing fields with a football. We played as closely to the proper rules of football as we could, but with three noticeable differences.

Firstly, we had no pitch markings. I went to a boys’ grammar school which didn’t actually play football as a school sport, we played rugby (no, I’m really not as posh as that makes me sound). We had some rough markings we could use on the concrete tennis courts, but on grass it was impossible. This meant that determining when the ball went over the line for a corner, goal-kick or even a goal was always a matter of argument. Throw ins just didn’t happen, there was seemingly infinite width to the pitches.

Secondly, jumpers for goalposts. I know that there are people who hear that phrase and are instantly transported back to their childhoods. In truth, we usually used schoolboys. This meant that judging if the ball was wide or not was tough. And as for shots over the crossbar, the rule of thumb was that the crossbar was as high as whoever was in goal could jump with their arms outstretched.

Thirdly, no offside. Now, if you don’t know the offside rule in football I am not about to try to explain it. Suffice to say that, without linesman at the sides of the pitch, offside would have been impossible to police.

This last rule led to me taking up my specialist position. The position of all kids for who being in defence or goal was a liability and midfield was pointless due to a lack of running or tackling skills. I wasn’t a marauding full-back, wizard on the wing or a typical English centre-forward. No, I was a goalhanger. My job was to stand close to the opposition goal, hoping for the ball to break outfield to give me a chance to score.

It’s a position you won’t find in the Premier League, or anywhere else who play to the official Laws of the Game, because you are always offside, so it’s pointless.

In fact, goalhanging is a huge reason for the offside rule being there in the first place. Goalhanging spoils the game as a spectacle, is quite inspiring and encourages those with little or no ability (like me) think they’re better than they are. In short, offside is a rule which irritates, confuses and frustrates, but is there for the good of the Game. It makes the Game fairer and more enjoyable.

The same goes for God’s laws, as taught with such clarity through Jesus. The commandments he gives to us are simple, some would say common sense commands which we don’t need to be told. Loving, respecting, helping others are all things which we “instinctively” know, as are most of his other commands.

They’re not so easy, though, when we’re told not to judge, to love our enemy, to put others before ourselves. Even the supposedly common-sense, instinctive ones seem beyond each of us on occasions, and beyond some most of the time.

Why? Because sometimes we don’t want to follow them. Sometimes our immediate reaction to events is selfishness, vengeance, anger or greed. Following Jesus commands feel far from instinctive, more like hugely inconvenient and restrictive.

But they are there for a reason. Like the offside rule stopping useless cloggers like me barely get by flourish on the football field and, instead, helping football be more like the “beautiful game”, so Jesus commandments do that in life. They curb selfish impulses in order to make life on Earth better for all of us.

It’s not about controlling masses or gaining power over them, it’s about really living life. That’s why, if we love him, we will keep his commandments and help others to do so as well.

No matter how hard that may be.


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