06 March 2013 You are here:

Red card or not? Is that the question?

Not surprisingly, the newspapers, chat-shows and coffee-shops are full of it. Discussions, some of it heated, all of it engaging (if you are a football fan, that is):

Did Nani deserve to get a red card last night? (If you do not know what I am talking about, perhaps you should skip this particular blog!)

I have heard pretty convincing arguments from both camps, and they all are focussed on varying understandings and/or interpretations of the law. It is interesting how convinced everyone who has an opinion is that they are right. I have a feeling some have not even studied the wording of the law in question!

I am an ardent Manchester United fan, and have been since I was 6 years old, when I read about the Munich air disaster and that George Best had signed on. So, mine is no fickle attachment to the club after the titles started coming in – I’ve supported them through thick and thin.

Therefore, my instinct was to condemn the referee, and, I duly did so… on my Facebook page. However, as I listened to the post-match discussion, I became less sure of myself, and, eventually, posted another statement saying that the decision could be justifiable - that is, it could be defended. This prompted further comment by people absolutely convinced that their opinion is correct, and explaining why they were so convinced.

It is interesting how pharisaic – as opposed to prosaic – we become in such situations.

The controversy will rage for a long time – because opinion is so divided and so strongly held. To be honest, after reading the law and observing all the comments, I am not sure whether it should have been a red card or not. All I know is that the decision changed the game – the red card changed the destiny of the teams involved - one is on its way to possible footballing glory, while the other is left licking its wounds. All because of the controversial issuing of a red card!

On occasion, I have been known to think godly thoughts (this may surprise some of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook, and have noticed that I enjoy the odd sporting event!) and I found myself thinking about Jesus and the issuing of red cards. I thought about the woman in John’s Gospel (8:1-11), caught in adultery. The experts were convinced they had understood the essence of the law, and so, pharisaic by name and by nature, they quoted the law, and claimed that it cannot be understood in any other way – it was a "red card offence" and the woman should be "put out of the game"! Only, this was no game – and, no matter what Bill Shankly says, football is NOT more important than the question of life or death(!) – and issuing a "red card" to this woman would have had fatal consequences - her life would be lost (rather than a chance to advance to the next round of a football competition)! So, Nani's red card pales into insignificance when one considers the questions pertaining to life and death - to live or not to live? That is the real question!.

Like Fergie and thousands of loyal ManU fans, the experts who had come to Jesus ranted; they railed; they quoted the law; the only difference was that they bayed for the red card to be issued. But they were not addressing a referee, obsessed with the law - they were addressing Jesus, the embodiment of God’s grace. The parameters on which his decision was to be made were quite different. It was to be a decision based on his character and his actions rather than on hers - and so, graciously, he first got rid of the baying crowd (I feel sure that last night's referee, Cuneyt Cakir, would've liked to have had that option!) and then, graciously, he gave her another chance - "no red card!", was his verdict. It transformed her life - far more dramatically than last night's red card changed the game.

And that's the marvellous message that the Church proclaims: my personal encounter with Jesus is an encounter of grace - who I am and what I have done is addressed, but in the context of who Jesus is and what he has done. No red card issued, not because the law is ignored, mind you, but because He has removed its hold on me - he has earned the right to do so. So he meets all of us with grace, just grace, pure grace - amazing grace!

By the way, the woman in John's Gospel was issued with a yellow card, but that's for another blog!

Finally, for the purists, here are the wordings of the respective parameters: For Cakir, FIFA law 12, fouls and misconduct, states: "A player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play." It clarifies: "Excessive force means that the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent." For Christ, the Bible says: "God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that every one who believes in him shall not be lost, but should have eternal life."