At the time of writing, one of the most asked questions in the sporting world is, “Will the Olympic Games go ahead or not”? Tokyo 2020 has already been delayed by a year due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. The games are due to start towards the end of July but
opinion is divided. Public opinion in Japan has hardened against the games taking place.
Japan is still in the grip of the Covid crisis, with states of emergency in many cities. The idea of 100,000 athletes and officials coming to Japan in the current circumstances is asking for trouble. On the other side of the debate the IOC, who organise the Olympics and most athletes want the games to go ahead with restrictions. On balance, it seems that they are likely to take place given the huge sums of money already committed to the project.
The Olympic Games originated in ancient Greece. Biblical writers, particularly St. Paul, were aware of the appeal of the games in the public imagination. The New Testament uses a number of athletic metaphors or word pictures to compare the Christian life to athletics.
The metaphor of running the race recurs in Paul’s letters to the Philippians, Galatians and to Timothy and also in the letter to the Hebrews. Paul draws the conclusion that to be in the race and to obtain the prize demands commitment and discipline on behalf of the athlete and the Christian.
The Christian life is not a sprint but a marathon. We start the race by coming to faith in Jesus Christ. That demands commitment to him. To keep running the race demands effort, concentration and dedication; being spurred on by spectators, those who cheer us on our way and mentors. It means keeping our eye on Jesus who urges us on to the finishing line and who graciously awards us the prize of eternal life.
Starting the race is vital but finishing the race is the goal. The 1968 Olympic Games were held in Mexico. As usual the final athletic event was the marathon, the climax of the spectacle. Nearly 100 athletes stated the gruelling event but less than 20 finished the race.
One of the African runners was expected to win. John Stephen Akhwari, from Tanzania was the African champion and one of the favourites. But like many of the competitors, he suffered severe cramp due to the high altitude. He stumbled and fell badly injuring his shoulder and knee. He hobbled into the Olympic stadium last, long after the medals had been awarded and the most of the vast crowd had left. When asked why he kept going in spite of his injuries, he said these memorable words, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race but to finish it.”
May we who are in Christ run the race in the words of the hymn writer, John Monsell,
Run the straight race through God’s good grace,
Lift up thine eyes, and seek his face;
Life with its path before us lies;
Christ is the way and Christ the prize.