Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out. Proverbs 17:14
The papers today are full of the spat at Chelsea Football Club.
In case you don’t know, a few weeks ago the Chelsea head coach, Jose Mourinho, lost his temper with his club doctors after they ran onto the pitch to look after an injured player. Even though the referee had beckoned them on, he felt they did wrong because the player in question didn’t seem seriously injured. Worse, with the seconds ticking away to the final whistle, it reduced his team to nine players (there should be eleven and they were already one short).
The doctors were banned from the touchline and the training ground - in effect, seriously reduced in rank. Not to put too fine a point on it, humiliated.
And now one of them, Eva Carneiro, has decided she has finished at Chelsea, and is “considering her legal position”.
I suspect that the great majority of people - total Mourinho fans apart - are firmly on her side. This is a story which, as they say, looks likely to run and run...
A perfect illustration of how a relatively trivial incident can explode into something seriously damaging.
Well, as you would expect, all the football commentators have been weighing in with their two-pennorth of opinion.
But I think the wisest words took about half a minute to say. Someone on television said: “If only Mourinho had made a statement as soon as the dust had settled and tempers cooled - ‘All right, I got this wrong and I’m sorry’ - it would have blown over in no time at all”.
“Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam” says the writer of Proverbs - a placid lake becomes, in a few moments, a deadly torrent. And how right he is! It happens every day, in offices, factories, workshops, schools, clubs, churches, you name it. People (perhaps I ought to say simply “we”) take offence and get hot under the collar; they say inflammatory things; even if deep down they know they’ve got things way out of proportion they refuse to back down. And it’s soon well out of hand.
And the remedy? Back to Proverbs: “so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out”.
Drop the matter. It sounds so simple. But the problem, of course, is what “dropping the matter” actually means in practice. In a word, apologising. Eating humble pie. Admitting we were wrong. Saying sorry. And who likes to do that?
I have some sympathy with Jose Mourinho - football, especially at the very highest level, is an extremely emotional business. Of course he was wrong to react as he did. But haven’t we all done exactly the same thing in different circumstances? His main fault lay not so much in losing his temper but in refusing to “drop the matter” immediately with a simple word of apology.
The word for that refusal in most cases is one that blights all our lives: pride. Pride can destroy our relationships; we insist on our own rightness, our own superiority, and we simply can’t stomach the idea of saying “All right, I was wrong”. Pride separates friends, work colleagues, family members - tragically, it can even be perpetuated over several generations.
On a higher level, Jesus has some thought-provoking things to say about this in Matthew 5:23-26: “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother...”
All right, we don’t literally “offer gifts at the altar”. But we do seek to bring our worship and praise to God. So Jesus is implying that a wrong relationship with a fellow human being has the effect of rendering our approach to God worthless.
I wonder, have you or I ever seriously thought about turning the car round on the way to church in order to make peace with someone we have offended? No? But what interest can God possibly have in receiving the worship and hearing the prayers of a pride-filled soul?
I invite us all to put to ourselves these two questions. First, how are my relationships with my fellow men and women? Am I long overdue for an apology? And second, how is my relationship with God? Have I faced the fact that I will never be at peace with him until I have taken a deep breath and said sorry?
Make no mistake, once we have learned to be truly sorry, there is no experience more liberating, more exhilarating, more life-transforming!
Dear God, forgive me the times I have wrecked relationships through stubbornness and pride. Give me the grace of true humility, and so help me to keep my relationship with you and with others strong and pure. Amen.