Today’s first reading is taken from Hebrews 12 beginning with verse 4. This long passage of exhortation that follows needs to be understood in the context of yesterday’s reading which included vv.1-2: Therefore, 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 2 while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.
The scene is set. The stadium is filled with “so great a cloud of witness,” you are lined up for the most important race of your life. You have imagined the great joy at crossing the finish line with arms raised in victory, your head tilted back in that great release of it all coming together, and now is done. You have imagined it. You have put in countless hours, you have sacrificed, you have endured, you have preserved. All for the sake of the joy at that moment.
Behind you are the other finishers. All are weary. Some have lost heart and experience the “bitter root” (v.15). Some, even in the moment of their loss, renew a silent vow to train harder and be ready for next time. They are happy having recorded a personal best, but they know mistakes were made. They did not run the perfect race. And you know that your race has room for improvement. There are other races ahead. It is time to return to the grind of practice.
“At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it. So strengthen your drooping hands and your weak knees. (Hebrews 12:11-12)
Whatever the shape of the “race” or endeavor we know that to succeed we must persevere with discipline. We might not be the most recent winner, but there are other races. We are on a team and we have our role and responsibilities.
Years later, even if the gold medal was never ours, we are well aware that there were valuable life skills and experiences that carry on into many other parts of life. We are a better person for it.
The great cloud of witnesses continues to watch and encourage. We continue to keep our eyes on Jesus even in the moments of weak knees and drooping hands.
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