This might be the ultimate Jesus juke, but please indulge me for a moment.
In the wake of Super Bowl L – er, 50 – I had to reflect on all the jukes I read between August and February. You know, all those comments that start with, “If people would get as excited about Jesus as they do about football…” Or, “If people would look forward to church as much as they do the big game…”
OK, I used to say the same things. Then I moved to Seattle.
We had an exciting season, to be sure. But I can’t forget the wild card game, when Minnesota’s kicker flubbed the game-winning field goal. My living room? Pandemonium. And then – guilt. I was yelling louder about a football 1500 miles away than I ever had in church.
I must be the worst hypocrite in the world. And not much of a Christian.
But I quickly realized why I felt so different in that shocking moment than I’d ever felt about Jesus. And upon further reflection I realized why we get so excited about football:
Football is better than Jesus…
…At keeping us in suspense.
Let’s face it: Jesus is predictable. He just wins. (I know Alabama fans want to stick Nick Saban in here somewhere, but Jolly Old St Nick has lost a game or two.)
Even when Jesus died, he won. True, his disciples had no idea what was going to happen; they thought the game was over. Then he arose! I’m pretty sure even Minnesota’s kicker would’ve been stunned by that. But to be fair, Jesus spent the next few days telling them they shouldn’t have been surprised – if for no other reason than that he told them he was going to rise again!
See? No suspense with Jesus.
I don’t mean that following Jesus is boring. No, there’s lots of suspense when we don’t know how little parts of our life will turn out. But we always know how the story ends – for our good and his glory. We know that he comes back on a white horse, defeats all his and our enemies, and ushers all of his children into his everlasting Kingdom. Whatever happens between now and then is mere prelude.
No football game can claim this much. And so we watch it in suspense, groaning in defeat and yelling in triumph. (Though plenty of Christians show similar emotions when God resolves the suspense in their own lives.)
But we watch football for more than its dramatic tension. We watch because football is better than Jesus…
…At displaying human prowess and ingenuity.
The Super Bowl embodies the pinnacle of human achievement like nothing else short of the global military-industrial complex. It’s like a cross between Bobby Fischer and a UFC fight. In suits of armor. On Broadway.
Our greatest athletes perform here. Not the most well-rounded athletes, but this is where you find our greatest examples of size, speed, strength, and agility.
You also find a lot of very smart people. From the quarterback to the coaches to the office managers, strategy and tactics whirl and evolve with every play.
Our creatives thrive here too. Whether or not we like the halftime show, everyone looks forward to advertisements and their ability to make us laugh, cry, and think.
And spend money. The amount of cash flowing through the NFL staggers the imagination. Moguls, marketers, and merchants of all kinds vie for football’s spotlight.
Though human himself, Jesus is all about everything mankind can’t do. As the God-man, he stoops to consider our best. Physically, he defeats death. Mentally, our philosophers are his fools. Creatively, well, he created us. And money? He paves his driveway with our treasure.
If you want to see the best mankind can do, don’t look to Jesus. Look to football because football is better than Jesus…
…At creating brief distractions.
Seriously, what was the score of Super Bowl XLVI?
Name all the teams in the AFC South. Or, if you prefer, the SEC East.
Who was the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers in 1998?
There are people who know these things. But even they must admit that three days after the big game – whatever game that might be – they’re thinking about the next one. That’s because football gives us an exciting three hours each weekend in the fall and then fades into irrelevance, leaving virtually no mark on our lives besides the money we spent and the calories we consumed.
We memorize football trivia, follow the weekly drama, and speculate about the future. But none of it presumes to change who we are. We are neither the better nor the worse for watching football. We are occupied. And only for a moment.
Jesus doesn’t just hold our attention; he demands allegiance. He doesn’t entertain us; he wants to transform us. And there’s no off-season; he pursues a constant relationship. Football offers us recreation, but Jesus aims to recreate us.
All of which means that football is very good at delivering cheap thrills, like the first hill on a roller coaster or a jump scare in a horror movie or the sugar rush that comes from eating a bag of cotton candy. No one will deny that we enjoy these sorts of things, but no one can honestly claim that Jesus is offering anything of the kind. Is it any wonder that our reactions should be different?
It may be nice for worshippers to display a fuller range of emotion, and perhaps a football game can take too much priority in our weekly schedules. But I won’t complain about someone screaming like a banshee at the TV on a Sunday afternoon when he’s spent the morning encountering the living God in the company of the redeemed. They’re two totally different things.
As for grown men wearing other men’s names on their backs, I’m just as confused as anyone else.