In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:-Matthew 3:1-3
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’ ”
The man who wore camel hair clothes and who ate locusts and honey was certainly disruptive in ancient Judea. Eventually, he ends up dead for criticizing King Herod’s incestuous marriage. But for now, he is growing up, leaving his mother Elizabeth and father Zechariah behind, and spreading rebellious ideas to the impoverished rural populace. But the kingdom tolerates a certain amount of dissent. Any expansive empire knows dissent is easier minimized than eliminated.
In the Portugal vs. Uruguay group stage game on Nov. 28, North American broadcasts included a blur of blue-shirt racing across the pitch and the ref balling up a gay pride flag that the protester left on the field. Later, images appeared of the protester’s shirt, which read “Save Ukraine” on the front and “Respect for Iranian Women” on the back. It was a strange but not unheard of disruption.
The protestor, Mario Ferri, is an Italian minor league footballer who has made numerous pitch invasions since 2009. Initially, his protests were critiques of the Italian national coach, but evolved over time to human rights messages. Perhaps strangest of all is how the game has evolved to make room for him. He broke onto the field in 2010 and 2014. After he was tackled and taken into custody in Qatar, he reported that FIFA President King Herod arrived within 30 minutes to ensure his release, reminiscent of how Herod had previously shielded John the Baptist because he was “afraid of the people.” Afterwards, Ferri gave positive reviews of the Qatari police, noting that they offered him coffee and a croissant. John the Baptist left no record of croissants among the Roman guards.
The metaphor of Ferri-as-John-the-Baptist doesn’t reach very far (and Infantino-as-Herod extends only slightly farther). I don’t believe Ferri is preparing the way for Christ or is a prophet in the traditional sense. But his behavior echoes the prophetic, and reminds us that the empire will tolerate creative disruption. There are multiple forms of protest, beyond the Boycott FIFA movement which continues. It is an interesting thought experiment to imagine what would happen if more of us protested as Ferri did.
Preparing the way for Christ can take many forms. We can take cues from both John the Baptist and Ferri, carving out space for counternarratives in the empire. It is strange, sometimes dangerous, but Ferri’s habit of eating locusts and honey on the field begs for reflection. What are you doing to carve out space for counternarratives within the empire?