“Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Spring means tournament season. High school hockey, high school basketball, NCAA basketball (March Madness), yes the sports tournaments are wrapping up their seasons and getting ready for the post season. They have their eye on the prize. To say they were the best. For these athletes they have sacrificed much to get there. They have sacrificed sleep, social time with friends, time with family, and much more. These athletes have given up much so they can work hard, train, practice, and master their skills so that they can be the best.
Saint Paul tells us in the preceding verses about the athletes of Corinth training to win their race and their prize. Paul was a master of relating to his audience at their level. He could relate to them at their level at where they were at in the society and on a personal level in their lives. It’s one of the keys to discipleship and evangelization that we all can learn from Paul. It’s also how the Bible being more than 2000 years old can still speak to us today. Sports and music are two things that many of us can relate to. For those of us that are or were athletes at one time, we know that we all had to practice and train for our sport. While some were blessed with more natural talent than others, everyone had to work hard and get better at what they did. Musicians have to practice their instrument and rehearse together with other musicians to for a band. Athletes have to better them selves both individually and as playing with others in a team. No matter how good one athlete on a team is, he is nothing without the rest of his/her teammates.
Paul tells us how these athletes in his day competed for a crown made from a wreath, a wreath that withered. In the Pixar movie Cars, the main character Lightning McQueen marvels at all of the championship “Piston Cups” that the town mayor Doc Hudson had won in his youth as a famous race car. Doc says something to the effect of those trophies were just “rusty old cups”. Do we really remember who was the outside linebacker to the 73 Dolphins? Who was the second baseman for the 91 Twins baseball team? (Without using the internet.)
Yes, sports can bring people together from different walks of life. Yes sports gives people a common goal as a team. Yes sports bring athletes together to work hard, train hard, rely on each other, for a common goal. To win a championship that in 50 years no one is going to remember or remember you. So now, imagine if we put the same effort into our faith as we do in practicing our sports. Imagine if we worked as hard at being a good faithful Christian as we did in practicing our sports. Imagine if we started everyday with prayer as serious as when we go to early morning basketball practice? Imagine a world where people were as excited about going to church as they were about going to the big game of the week? Imagine tailgating in the church parking lot on Sunday morning? Wearing Jesus shirts as proudly as a sports jersey. And for what? A rusty old trophy in 50 years? For some pride and warm fuzzies about some athletes that know nor care nothing for you.
But God does know you. God does Love you. And we all can be God’s “champions”. Yes we do need to practice hard and work hard daily just as an athlete for a prize that can never wither and grow old old and rusty. Sports are for a few moments in our life. Heaven is forever.
Just one more thing: Today’s Gospel reading from Luke 4:1-13 speaks of Jesus being tempted in the desert by Satan. No one is immune to the temptation of Satan. Not even the Son of God. Jesus being fully God and fully man was perfectly equipped to combat Satan’s temptation. He is Satan’s ultimate opponent and to use a sports term, biggest rival. Satan is also our biggest rival as well. He’s out to defeat us. Satan want’s to tempt us and lead us astray. When we practice our faith like practicing a sport we are strengthened and equipped in combating that temptation. Practicing our faith, living our faith, following the rules of the game of our faith, gives us the best chance of winning our championship. A championship that will never tarnish and be forgotten but will allow us to live forever.