Eduardo dived. We all know that. Drogba dives all the time. We all know that. Owen dives. But not very often (he’s usually injured). Rooney dives. But we may choose to overlook that. Torres never dives. Torres is lighter, he simply falls more easily. He may tumble in challenges, but merely to avoid damaging his beautiful legs.
Anyway, diving is only cheating when the other team do it. When our team does it, it is merely cheeky, a fair attempt to win a free kick, or even a penalty. A lucky break, we may say, like Rooney’s against Slovenia on Saturday, when even Clive Tyldesley couldn’t make it fair.
Some play more cynically. As long as it gets you the result you need, and you don’t get caught, it is ok. As long as it looks like you were ‘going for the ball, ref’, then it’s ok. As long as the blood looks like blood and the ref thinks its blood, it’s ok. Because it is the end result that matters, not how you get there.
If England win tonight, then they are guaranteed qualification to the World Cup. Hooray! After the debacle of qualifying for the Euros, anything goes. Even playing Heskey. And being run by an Italian. And wearing school PE kits.
How many of us, without realising it, think that following Jesus is about guaranteeing qualification. It is about doing enough to get to the top of the group and scrape through into heaven. By any means, really. Getting the baby baptised is one. Tick. Regularly going to church at Christmas is one. Tick. Being a good person is one. Tick. Maybe convincing the vicar we mean the promises at baptism when we don’t really is a bit like a dive in the penalty area – we want guaranteed qualification, without the hard graft; we want the 3 points, and its looking a bit tricky; so bend the rules a bit and it’ll be fine, convince the vicar, and they’ll go with it. After all, everyone else does it.
Jesus told a story about the sheep and the goats, in which the sheep, who had fed the poor and visited the sick and criminals, were guaranteed qualification into ‘the kingdom’, whereas those who had not, were not passed fit to enter. This is a complex story, but one of the points here is that Jesus isn’t simply interested in the final qualification tables showing how many points we have earned. He is interested in how we got there. So the dive does matter. It is not irrelevant. We cannot con our way to qualification. Questions will be asked. There is a video review panel. The end result isn’t the most important thing; it really is about the journey. And, thankfully of course, grace.
Because, contrary to what many of us think, ‘the kingdom’ is not ‘heaven‘, as popular culture thinks of it, i.e. life after death, spirits floating in a happy place where we are with granny again. It is far deeper than that, far more profound. ‘Eternal life’, or ‘life of the ages‘ as it is better translated, begins now. So tonight hopefully England will play the 90 minutes like they are in the World Cup already, playing in the final; because every game is important, not just the ones after the final whistle. And hopefully, we will engage with Jesus now, fully and wholeheartedly, and not just do our best to get through the 90 minutes of life unscathed, because the kingdom is here now, and we are living it, not just aiming towards it as a future hope, but living it as a present reality.
And as for qualification? Take up your cross and follow me. Live in my grace. And that’s way more than just ticking the right box. Or even diving in it.