The Project

We live in era that demands to see overnight — if not instantly —results. Or rather, results we would like to expect.

Sep 18, 2014

Anil Netto

By Anil Netto
We live in era that demands to see overnight — if not instantly —results. Or rather, results we would like to expect.

Many of us have little time for long drawn-out blueprints. Perhaps an analogy with English Premier League football might help.

Continental managers new to the English game have come up with the term ‘project’ to describe their blueprint for the long-term development of their new clubs. But after a season or two of lack of ‘success,’ the managers themselves are jettisoned out.

Most teams are into the short-term results-oriented business these days especially in this era when billionaires regard clubs as their latest ornamental playthings, the cherry on their business empires. These billionaire-owners want to see instant results. Modern-day football regrettably is an expensive affair and has been so commercialised, and even corrupted, by corporate advertising that it is a far cry from the days when football was played in line with the noble ideals of the sport.

So, the best manager and players that money can buy are hired. In the process the long-term youth development plans of the club, the manager’s long-term project, is usually sacrificed as top players are parachuted in. Failure to achieve results within a season (or shorter) could lead to the unceremonious termination of the manager and the selling of key players.

But sometimes, the effect of a good manager can be felt over the years, even long after he leaves.

One manager who stands as an anomaly to this current trend is Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, who happens to be a Catholic. He was in Rome the other day as manager of a team of stars in a friendly match — the idea for which came from the Bishop of Rome — aimed at promoting interreligious peace and harmony. (Of Francis, Wenger noted: “He is also a football fan. He is a supporter of San Lorenzo in Argentina. You cannot be born in Argentina and not be a football fan.”)

Despite several lean years as Arsenal manager, Wenger has stood the test of time and often resisted the temptation, with a few notable exceptions, to buy his way to success. His club is well managed and he has blooded in unknown young players and nurtured them into stars playing beautiful football. (I am not an Arsenal fan. Just saying.)

What has this got to do with Christianity?

Jesus too had a ‘project’, and a long-term one at that.

His passion was to herald the reign or kingdom of God. During his earthly ministry, he laid the groundwork for what was to come.

But some of his followers expected short-term results. They failed to realise his long-term ‘project’.

They wanted instant ‘political’ results — namely the ousting of the Romans from Palestine — the ultimate cup upon which they would gauge Jesus’ success.

His contemporaries — the temple priests, scribes and the local Roman overlords they collaborated with — saw Jesus as a threat. He was seen as eating into their local support. Their supporters or adherents in the countryside were drifting away and turning to Jesus in droves.

Jesus was tortured and executed on the cross, the ultimate punishment reserved for rebels under Roman rule.

Darkness descended on the land once again.

But what was Jesus’ long-term ‘project’?

He wanted to plant the seeds of the kingdom of God that would promote the values of the kingdom — righteousness (justice), freedom, a sense of sisterhood and brotherhood, love, reconciliation, compassion and inclusiveness (remember the tax collectors and the prostitutes who were drawn to him?)

He wanted to build a community that would practise these values in sharp contrast to the values of the Empire (peace and stability achieved through military victory, oppression and exploitation).

He was executed before he could see tangible results.

But the seeds had been planted. The ‘project’ had begun. People had begun buying into his vision.

I have often wondered why Jesus seemed so secretive about his role as the ‘Messiah.’ In the Gospels, you can see him warning his disciples not to tell anyone who he was. Then it struck me, perhaps he didn’t want to draw attention to himself and to be worshipped apart from the project he was so passionate about — the kingdom and the reign of God.

Perhaps he felt the danger would be that people would hero-worship him for himself, without buying into his project to free humanity from the chains of hatred, injustice, oppression, and exploitation and replace it with the values of the kingdom.

Jesus embodied and reflected the God of justice and compassion. He was the Word made flesh. He didn’t want to be worshipped as a worldly Messiah who would lead them to instant — but ultimately, short-lived and passing — glory, by ousting the Romans. Neither did he want to be seen solely as a cosmic saviour who was so far apart that he could not understand the suffering human condition.

He had to explain to the people what his long-term ‘project’ was about — rather than have people worship him just because he performed a few miracles or saw in him a living cosmic deity who would fulfil their desire for short-term results. This kingdom was to grow over time — over a few millennia even — until it provided shade for all who seek refuge and comfort, a real community that would live up to the ideals of the kingdom.

When darkness descends on our land —as it has now — and in the Middle East as well, it might be useful to remind ourselves and rededicate ourselves to Jesus’ ‘project.’ We are to hold the light of the kingdom of God and project the light of divine justice, love and compassion that is the hallmark of the kingdom of God that Jesus was so passionate about.

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