THE month of June brought to our globe the excitement and ecstasy of World Cup 2002.
Unlike some World Cup finals I have watched, the recently concluded one was not the boring affair that brought the worst out of sportsmen. Instead, it has not only delivered its promise of being a football fiesta but also added a dash of edification for its ardent fans.
Headlines in many newspapers all over the world spoke of the redemption of Ronaldo. Isn’t it interesting that a word found often in theological discussion is deemed appropriate for the masses by the newspapers, while the sons and daughters of the church eschewed such big theological words, complaining that they obfuscate rather than illuminate?
I have no wish to be a village scold, making use of any opportunity just to grumble about the lack of respect for theology amongst many churchgoers today. Thus, I shall move on to speak of what is of greater importance: the uncanny parallels between Ronaldo’s redemption and that which has been taught in the church for centuries.
What exactly might Ronaldo’s redemption mean? One thing is sure: it is about how a man who had utterly disappointed his country, his fans, and himself, came back four years on with exactly the same challenge and conquered it with two spectacular goals. These were the only goals of the final and they helped him to be the top scorer of the competition by a clear margin of three goals. He who was once written off and almost had his career wrecked by a persistent injury came back in top form to help his team win and taste the heights of glory. A failure, no matter how abject, need not be the last word on the significance of our lives.
But there is one very important point lurking here which must not be missed. Ronaldo’s redemption is not about having the coveted winner’s medal through any means. Merely getting the prize without contributing to Brazil’s win will be no redemption for him. It must be something he has to put right. His poor performance then must be answered by a good performance now, in similar circumstances. He is not to be borne along passively to the winners’ rostrum by the effort of his team. He must also contribute to the effort of reaching there.
Similarly, a redemption which means only our getting to heaven on a special ticket means, at best, nothing at all. And at worst, it presents to the world a God who does not differentiate between right and wrong. A proper redemption must also include our transformation. This may involve a setting right of what we once did wrong. Scripture calls this repentance and conversion (Matt 21:28-32). Good works follow faith in Christ (Eph 2:8-10; James 2:14-26).
Interestingly, to put right what he blundered four years ago was something he could not do alone. His dejection and his troubled knee conspired together to prevent it from happening. Another agent, a French surgeon who helped repair his knee, is needed to set him on the road to physical recovery just as the many fans who still believed him set him on the road to mental recovery. Ronaldo himself has testified that without the help of these people, the redemption that sportswriters spoke of would not have come about.
The redemption the church speaks of points to a greater parallel. It proclaims the good news of the one who came to us in all our inability — indeed, in our deadness of trespasses and sins — and performed for us what we could never perform in order that we may perform that which we did not perform. And all this is of grace.
What about the hapless Oliver Kahn, the poor German goalkeeper? More importantly, what about us? Is there a way whereby we can be forgiven and be brought back to a similar challenge but with the difference that we are now victorious? Yes, in God’s gracious providence there can be such moments. Although the circumstances may not be identical, they may none the less be similar. The exact event cannot be re-enacted; that is history. But similar events calling for similar responses may be given us. We are then to act in a manner reflecting the divine work that has already taken place in us and put to right what we once did wrong.
The footballers do it for a temporal prize but we, an eternal. Indeed, such opportunities may now be knocking on our very doors. Do we see them? Or do we have eyes only for what the world regards as important?
Sorry, Ronaldo, I have used your inspiring story without your permission. But I do hope you yourself have also found the greatest redemption there ever is through Christ Jesus our Lord. And I pray that what you have experienced may provide a pointer to this greatest of redemption for your fans and also the readers of Methodist Message.
Dr Tan Kim Huat, Chen Su Lan Professor of New Testament at Trinity Theological College, is the Dean of Postgraduate Studies.