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The Parable of Maradona and the "Hand of God"  


How a conversation about football presented an opportunity to talk about the worship of one of the game's most famous players - and Jesus. By Mark Roques


Picture it. We are enjoying Sunday lunch with friends and the conversation turns to football. It could be Brexit but it isn't. Before you know it, the diners are debating that pressing question. Who is the greatest footballer of all time? Jackie plumps for Pele. Frank is a Johan Cruyff fan. Susan urges us to consider Cristiano Ronaldo. Roy puts in a kind word for George Best. The conversation is noisy and passionate.
Do you go and do the washing-up or do you remain at the table and engage in bespoke evangelism? Bespoke evangelism begins with everyday conversation. You find out what people naturally enjoy talking about, what they find enthralling, and then you build bridges into this delightful chat zone.
Today the chat zone has a sharp focus. Who is the greatest ever kicker of the pig's bladder? Ron, a bricklayer friend, jokingly suggests Bobby Charlton and Susan, an accountant, snorts with derision. "Bobby was a great player, if a tad bald, but let's not pretend he was the greatest."
It is now time to tell one of my football parables based on a true story. "In my view, Maradona was the greatest player ever. He had incredible dribbling ability, close ball control, incisive passing and his goal against England in 1986 was sensational. And by the way did you know that thousands of people worship him as a god?"
The guests are intrigued and probe me on the Maradona faith as they tuck into second helpings of the coq au vin. I wax lyrical:

"Worldwide there are 200,000 worshippers of the Argentinian football genius Diego Maradona. Founder of the faith, Alejandro Veron put it like this: 'Our religion is football and, like all religions, it must have a god. We will never forget the miracles Maradona showed on the pitch and the spirit he awoke in us, the fanatics.' The Church of Maradona  insists that you must get baptised by slapping a football. The candidate jumps in front of a life-size cardboard of goalkeeper Peter Shilton and endeavours to recreate, by means of a left hand punch, that exquisite loop over Shilton's head and the ball dropping into a gaping net."

The consumers of the coq au vin are alert and attentive.

"This 'baptism' celebrates the moment when Diego cheated and scored the infamous "Hand of God" goal against England in 1986.

The 'Ten Commandments' of the Church of Maradona are as follows:

  1. The ball is never soiled.

  2. Love football above all else.

  3. Declare unconditional love for Diego and the beauty of football.

  4. Defend the Argentina shirt.

  5. Spread the news of Diego's miracles throughout the universe.

  6. Honour the temples where he played and his sacred shirts.

  7. Don't proclaim Diego as a member of any single team.

  8. Preach and spread the principles of the Church of Maradona.

  9. Make Diego your middle name.

  10. Name your first son Diego.There is also a prayer to Maradona that goes like this: "Our Diego Who art on earth hallowed be thy left foot. Thy magic come. Thy goals be remembered."

"So there you are dear friends - is the coq au vin to your liking and how do you respond to this faith in Maradona?"
Jackie is the first to pipe up and ask: "And what does Diego think about this bizarre faith in himself?"
I am well prepared here as I unpack the parable: "Well Diego clearly approves of this faith in Himself as a god because he sometimes telephones his worshippers and thanks them for their adulation."
Frank is by now fuming. "Maradona is one of the seediest guys on the planet. He once fired a rifle at photographers and he has abused alcohol, drugs and food in outrageous ways. Surely someone like that should never be worshipped!"
Having unleashed my football parable I continue full throttle. "For me Maradona was the most incredible player who ever lived. He took an ordinary team and through sheer genius and bottle made them World Champions in 1986. You can't argue with that."
"Here's my take on the Church of Maradona. Atheists will say that this faith is pure superstition - rank nonsense. Others will say 'whatever works for you'. If you believe Maradona is the Messiah then it is 'true for you'. The Maradona faithful are full of pious reverence for their football god. For some it's a joke, for others it's deadly serious.
“Christians, however, would beg to differ. Christians believe that it is foolish to get baptised in the name of Maradona because he simply isn't the Messiah. Just a broken sinner like everyone else."
"Let me ask you three questions. Can Maradona forgive your sins? Can a certificate of baptism signed by Maradona help you out on the Day of Judgment? When Maradona dies, will he come back from the dead?"
"Isn't the right faith staring us in the face? Jesus created the possibility of football in the beginning and declared it very good. He is the Creator and Redeemer of all things. We should worship Jesus Christ because he was the sinless Son of God who died to take away the sins of the world. Those who trust in Him will enjoy bodily resurrection in a new heaven and a new earth. Football will then be perfect with no greed, no corruption and no crafty 'Hand of God' cheating.
There was a pause around the table. And then the conversation exploded. It just got better and better. Later that day everyone said how much they had enjoyed the coq au vin and the lively debate about Diego Maradona and the kingdom of God.

Image | Meryabad | Flickr | Creative Commons 

Mark Roques preaches in Cragg Hill Baptist Church in Horsforth. He is the director of RealityBites which is part of the Thinking Faith Network based in Leeds.

He is the author of 
The Spy, the Rat and the Bed of Nails: Creative Ways of Talking About Christian Faith

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Baptist Times, 23/10/2018
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