To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God? It is like unto a soccer team, each one playing his role, following the coach’s instructions, all for the team’s victory and for the club’s honour. Success depends on two key factors that sum up the coach’s overall strategy: movement and positioning that occur away from the ball, and the ability to know when to seize the opportunity to play the ball.
As such, we could summarize Jesus’ strategy as our coach: he led his team (of twelve) onto the field of his time giving us an example; it remains an example for us today, we who are his selection on the pitch in the 21st century.
Like many team sports, soccer is above all a game of positioning, then of passing the ball and finally, when the opportunity presents itself, taking a shot on goal. It’s always amusing, and a little bit ridiculous, to watch children playing who all at once run after the ball and only have one thing in mind: to score.
When we hear our coach establish the objective of our call, “to make disciples”, we risk concluding too quickly that we must produce converts or even church members. And then, we all run after the ball to create for our own self an opportunity to take a shot regardless of where we are on the pitch. All opportunities are good, aren’t they?
Yet, the imperative that Jesus left with His disciples in Matthew 28:19 doesn’t reflect a one-off action, but rather a process. Our translations mislead us by stipulating “go and make disciples.” Jesus rather places his commandment in a process, a life journey. He begins literally by saying, “as you are going”, “journeying”, or “living”. The word “disciple” is not even the object of the action “to make disciples”. In the original language, it’s the action itself (literally, “to disciple”). It is therefore more of a continuous process of shaping a disciple in the image of Jesus. And this process feeds into public baptism and the on-going learning from the coach and his advice.
But let’s come back to the strategy that leads us to this ultimate objective: positioning oneself and seizing the opportunity. Let’s observe Jesus. His positioning is impressive. He always follows the instructions from his coach, the Father. “The word became human and made his home (literally, ‘set up his tent’) among us.” (1) “Being born in the likeness of men”(2) , “he shared in [our] humanity” (3). He took his place in our game.
His style of game has never been static. One could qualify it as “word in action”, an active game in perpetual motion. “In action” both in the literal and in the figurative sense. As players are on the field in a game, a statistic is kept of the total number of kilometers they cover during a match. Jesus was the champion in this domain. Oh, how he walked! With His disciples, with the crowds following closely, crossing through cities and towns, the countryside, from Galilee to Judea and back, even crossing Samaria, and in pagan lands, and even after His resurrection, toward Emmaus, on the lakeshores, all the way to the mountain where he ascended. But he rarely walked alone, always with those that wanted to follow him. “To walk” is also a verb that the New Testament uses in the figurative sense to describe our behavior, our way of living among our contemporaries. And how Jesus lived! He experienced all of our life as a human, but rarely alone. With his family, his friends, his disciples, with the curious, with the crowds. He ate, he drank, he went to parties, he cried, he worked, he rested, he served, healed, comforted. Jesus also, though, added talk to his walk, and always appropriately. He encouraged, corrected, explained, taught, proclaimed, exhorted.
There you have it, our model for the game, and our textbook strategy, for each one of us and for our VIANOVA team.
First of all, the key to positioning. This is the first stage, developed in our previous road map (edition of RALPH): incarnate Jesus in the world, where the Coach has placed us. Like salt out of the saltshaker, like a lamp on its stand.
Secondly, we are called to shape disciples in this world, our world, in each of our contexts. Following Jesus’ example, we develop a game of movement, word in action, among our friends and colleagues and neighbors who don’t yet know Jesus, with them, alongside them. Two particular verses say it well, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”(4) “Be careful then how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most out of every opportunity.”(5) Our role is to walk and live alongside people. It’s our Coach who positions us strategically and opens the door for us to speak, always appropriately,(6) for shaping one another on our journey with Jesus. Because the way of the cross, which saves us from our sin, steers us toward a renewed walk, nourished by the power of the resurrection “so we too might walk in newness of life,”(7) as we follow Jesus.
The first stage of positioning is essential: incarnating Jesus in the world. It must nevertheless be followed by the second stage: shaping disciples of Jesus in this world. This is our work, as a team. Would you like to join us?
(1) John 1:14 (NLT) (2) Philippians 2:7 (ESV) (3) Hebrews 2:14 (NIV) (4) Colossians 4:5 (NIV) (5) Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV) (6) Colossians 4:6 (NIV) (7) Romans 6:4 (NASB)