“The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatted steer together; and a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)
The pictures of Moroccan right back Achraf Hakimi kissing his mother after each of Morocco’s World Cup matches has become one of the iconic images of the Qatar 2022 competition. Hakimi, son of a cleaner and street vendor, has inspired his underdog Moroccan team to a historic run in the knockout rounds of the world’s most-watched competition.
Morocco progressed further than any African, Arab, or Muslim Majority nation in the history of the competition. Their victory is being hailed by many as an inspiration and spark of hope for those who come from backgrounds often marginalized in world football and in society at large.
In some ways, the success of a soccer team, even an underdog, is an odd place to find hope. There are valid criticisms over the fact that this World Cup is being played in a nation whose human rights abuses are rife and well-documented. The spectacle of Qatar’s magnificent stadiums seems trivial next to the abuse tantamount to murder perpetrated against the migrant workers who paid for the construction of those stadiums in blood. The technically beautiful, sometimes flamboyant play of top teams like Argentina, Brazil, and France pales in comparison to Qatar’s often violent repression of its queer citizens.
Soccer can appear inconsequential, crass, and even profligate amidst an ongoing pandemic, the scourge of unchecked weapons proliferation in America and abroad, the execution of pro-democracy protestors, and conflicts in regions and between belligerents that potentially place our planet on the precipice of nuclear war. How can a game, how can a kiss, how can anything so small serve as a spark of hope in a world where darkness too often overcomes the light?
There is something about sports, something about the stories of players like Hakimi and his mother, that captures the hearts and minds of the world and pierces our souls with its poignancy in a way no propaganda, no psychological operation, no deliberate effort could do. There is something almost spiritual, at the very least profound, amidst the profane bread and circuses of these games that gives a thrill of hope to a weary world.
We find hope in strange and unexpected places. We never know where or in what form the divine messengers proclaiming “Good news of great joy” will appear. No one expected hope to come from a nation on the fringes of world football. No one expected hope to come from the son of a cleaner and his old mother. No one expected hope to come from the podunk town of Bethlehem in the backwater province of Judea. Certainly, no one expected hope to come from a teen mom kissing the son she had out of wedlock.
And yet, in all these things the hopes and fears of all the years seem to be met. In the kiss Hakimi shares with his mom, as in that first kiss between the blessed mother and the son of God, the world finds seemingly unwarranted, certainly unexpected, hope.
We find hope that one day we might actually beat our swords into plowshares and our guns into garden tools. We find hope that the Atlas Lion might one day lie down with the Lamb of Judah. We find hope that every tear will be wiped from our eyes. We find hope in the coming of the Messiah and the promise that he will make all things new.
Rev. Dr. John Sianghio is a divinity teaching fellow (lecturer) at the University of Chicago Divinity School and the College, as well as pastor of Cosmopolitan United Church in Melrose Park, Illinois. His research focuses on the ways religious ethics can inform the exercise of power, especially the enforcement of human rights norms.
NOTE: This is part of our Unsettling Advent devotionals running Nov. 27-Dec. 24. You can subscribe for free to receive them each morning in your inbox.