10 February 2017
Tennis balls and the table-turning Jesus
Andrew Wooldridge is membership officer at the Evangelical Alliance.
For a culture that typically finds other people’s misfortunes somewhat hilarious – hence the worldwide success of You’ve Been Framed and the like – the stadium fell ominously quiet…
After losing the third game of the third set, Denis Shapovalov, the 17-year-old Canadian tennis player, took the spare tennis ball out of his pocket and angrily swiped a forehand towards the crowd, directly connecting with the umpire’s left eye.
This passionate sportsman’s outburst had disastrous results – as well as some serious bruising for the umpire. Shapovalov lost the match by default, and Canada lost the Davis Cup tie. The event made me ask myself: “How emotionally engaged in life am I?”
I’m not endorsing his angry outburst, but I do appreciate the fact that he was deeply invested and emotionally engaged in that moment. I do admire his passion, even if it was expressed unhealthily.
I love that the gospel books of the Bible reveal Jesus as emotionally engaged. He wept over the loss of a friend, and the unrepentant heart of a city. He rebuked Peter as he tried to stand in the way of God’s plans. He turned the tables in the Temple and made a whip to drive out the animals.
Jesus was kind, loving, and generous. He was also passionate, strong and righteously angry. Yet I wonder if we often seek to imitate his kindness much more than his passion.
Romans 12:9-11 says: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.”
‘Sincere’ love requires an emotional engagement that costs. It cares what the outcome is. It’s not going to just ‘give it a go’, it’s going to do all it can. Denis Shapovalov certainly cared – he was emotionally invested in that moment. How sincere is our love for our work colleagues? For our neighbours? For the rejected, forgotten and abused?
We don’t get told to hate very often in our imitation of Jesus, and yet I think Paul, writing Romans, was quite convinced that Jesus hated what was evil. I wonder whether we can say we actually hate the injustices, the abuses, the poverty, the corruption and evil that we are surrounded by – or whether we’ve become less emotionally engaged than Jesus is.
Paul’s idea of zeal and fervour here speaks of passion, of investing oneself diligently, and of reaching a boiling point. When was the last time your passion for the things of God reached a boiling point? And why is it often so hard to maintain, and grow in our “zeal and spiritual fervour”?
I wonder if in part it's because the incessant entertainment that surrounds us often numbs our hearts to others’ pain and suffering. When our hearts and minds are consumed with the superficial, they quickly become hardened and stone-like. To invest ourselves emotionally in the things that God is passionate about takes effort, intention, and sacrifice.
Perhaps if we were to spend an evening without the TV, we could create space for God’s fire-giving spirit to awaken our hearts to the things He is passionate about - when our passion is for God and His gospel, perhaps a passion for the world He loves will follow.
Perhaps if we were to turn our smart-phones off on our commutes, or while we’re waiting in the queue, and instead choose to really look at the world and the people around us, God might soften our stony hearts to make them responsive to His heart.
Then, perhaps, we could live more emotionally engaged lives; lives more like the weeping, rebuking, table-turning Jesus.