One of the most consistent characteristics of our towns and cities is their identification with and loyalty to sport. Sometimes the sport is different but the passion seems to be the same. Fans can almost become rabid for their basketball, football, baseball teams whether a professional team, farm team, college team, or, in some spots, high school teams.
In the same genre another phenomenon has occurred: local mania for the runners who participate in the area 5K, 10K, or marathon races. In some locations like Boston and Chicago, the marathon has become a featured event where thousands turn out.
A metaphor that is mentioned more than once in the Bible is that of the runner. My speculation is that running is such a personal affair. It’s one of the sports where competition is against and with yourself. For the runner everything is defined by those terms.
This is much like the reality of our own faith walk. In an oft-quoted scripture (2 Timothy 4:7) St. Paul puts it this way: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Besides being a new Christian, Paul’s history reveals that he was very much a part of the Greek culture in which he grew up. He would have been very familiar with the fanaticism of the Greeks and their “madness” for sport, especially running. The marathon originated in Greece and it was always a very public affair for the town, village, or area where it took place. Not unlike today, scores of spectators would have been gathered along the route to encourage the competitors. Paul would not have written as the runner without being aware of that fact.
So here we are in November, running our own races and maybe just a little exhausted at year’s end. As we hunker down for winter and try to keep our energy up and look a little closer at Paul’s metaphor.
Who do you think were the spectators along his run? All we have to do is look at the teaching of the Church for the month of November. We have thousands watching us, adding their cheers of encouragement: the saints and souls who surround us constantly are really the crowd along our marathon route.
In Hebrews the writer reminds us of this when he tells us:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb 12:1).*
People who have run marathons will tell you about the power of the crowd and how they were spurred past exhaustion because of that energy. Right at this moment each of us has thousands of loving spectators urging us on, shouting our name, asking God to sustain us. Remember your encouragers and take advantage of the fact that unlike other faith traditions, in this journey, you have unlimited resources who have “been there”. Don’t let this priceless store go to waste or go unused! Someday you’ll be a member of that group!
*FYI Scholars disagree about the authorship of the book of Hebrews. For me, I really feel that Paul wrote it especially in light of the “race metaphor” which appears first in his Letter to Timothy.
Copyright © 2013, Kathryn M. Cunningham