We Are All Runners in a Race
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 14, 2022
“Brothers and sisters: since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us, and persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.” Hebrews 12:1-12
In today’s second reading, St. Paul compares life on earth as if we are runners in a race. When I was in Junior High School (as it was called then), the PE teacher used to call a lap around the track a “scenic”, a misnomer if there ever was one. There was nothing that I hated more than running those “scenics”, and being slow, he often made me do a second lap while everyone else watched me. I would gladly have sat in the bleachers and watched everyone else run, but that was not an option! Of course, I was forced to do it like every other un-athletic kid, and usually came in last 😩.
The truth is, whether we realize it or not, every one of us is running in the race we call life. Not just a “rat-race”, but a “run for life”. To continue using St. Paul's analogy, there are those who have already lived their lives on earth who, having entered the bleachers above, now watch us with great interest. The way they led their lives determines everything. These are the saints, the angels, our friends and relatives who have died, and more than a few surprises. They are all watching the arena where we are competing right now, watching our performance, on which hangs our eternal relationship with Christ in heaven. Everything hangs in the balance.
This reality, when it sinks in, can be a bit unnerving, but the fact remains that most of us would probably try harder if we realized how many are watching us from the next world and what is at stake for our eternal future. It is not the one who finishes first so much as how we ran the race. God rewards us for effort, not necessarily success like worldly people do. He can read our hearts and he knows if we are trying (unlike that old PE teacher I had).
Earthly life is not a time for sitting in the bleachers, but of struggling and striving and yes, suffering. St. Paul tells us how to compete in this race: to keep our eyes always on Jesus, always on our goal, always on heaven, the one true object of all our labors on earth. If we try to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as we go through our day, we will make it our aim to please him. We can only run the race well if we keep our goal in mind.
St. Paul also tells us to be aware of our handicaps. We, too, are called to cast aside the sins that still cling to us and persevere and run the race that lies before us. Unrepentant sins are like lead weights tied around our wrists and ankles. They weigh us down and prevent us from competing well. So long as we keep Jesus as our primary goal, even if we are slow runners, we will always be a winner in the eyes of Jesus, in the race of our lives.