Day 18: If a Census Should be Taken

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.

-Luke 2:1-3

If FIFA was some kind of Caesar Augustus that required players to travel to the country of their birth for a census, 59 players would travel to France, representing 10 countries. FIFA has complicated rules for national team eligibility. Players have long represented countries they were not born in; but as soccer benefits from the twin forces of legalized child trafficking through youth academies and global migration (especially between former colonies and their colonizers), questions of nationality become increasingly complicated. This maze of qualification results in scenarios like brothers Inaki and Nico Williams playing for two different countries, Ghana and Spain, respectively.

FIFA also has a somewhat unique definition for “country,” counting Scotland, Palestine, and Puerto Rico, among the nations eligible to play at the World Cup (should they qualify). Under FIFA’s rules, not only would Judea be a nation, the tiny semi-autonomous kingdom nominally ruled by Herod, so would Rome, Galicia, Corinth, and practically all of Paul’s geo-nomously titled letters. The mind is boggled.

To complicate matters further, once a player chooses–as an adult–to represent a country, it is incredibly difficult to switch allegiances. Part of the intrigue of the World Cup is the way players navigate national identities. The angst of Lionel Messi’s career is the accusation that he is more Spanish than Argentinian. Timothy Weah plays for the United States, but his father played for Liberia. Former French team captain Patrice Evra described sending the French and Algerian flags to current (out on injury) French player Karim Benzema, because you are always loving both, even if FIFA will only ever recognize you as belonging to one nation. 

Under FIFA’s rules, Jesus the son of Mary would be eligible to play for Judea (his mother’s  country), Egypt (where he lived as a child), and the Roman Empire (although he would not qualify for Roman citizenship because Rome was racist and practiced ethnicity-based discrimination). Is there theological significance to Jesus’ FIFA eligibility? 

Depends how you define “significance.” Surely God Incarnate could have simplified God’s national identity if God wanted to. God could have shoehorned Jesus’ birth under King David and been God Incarnate of a simple geo-religious-ethnic identity. 

Viewing Jesus’ identity through the lens of FIFA eligibility recontextualizes the geography of the Bible and recontextualizes contemporary conversations about race, migration, and identity. It binds together past and present, exposing the way national identities across colonial relationships ensnare and liberate, how oppressors and oppressed are bound together in inextricable ways, in the present and the ancient past. God’s kingdom makes space for the multiplicity of identity, and requires no declaration of single national allegiance.

Johannes Kepler's 1627 map of the work.
While Johannes Kepler did create this map, his FIFA eligibility remains unclear.

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