I once saw a shirt at a cross country meet that read “My sport is your sport’s punishment.”
I literally laughed out loud as I read it. It’s one of those instances when something is funny because it’s true. In most athletic pursuits, running is a means to an end, not the end itself.
Running is used to condition a body, to prepare it for the rigors of athletic competition. It strengthens the heart, lungs and legs, developing the physical stamina and strength to carry on for extended periods of time as one attempts to kick a ball into a net, throw a ball through a hoop, outmaneuver and outpush an opponent as they pursue your quarterback, outrun an opponent as they try to tackle you or chase down a ball as it floats deep into the outfield.
If an athlete fails to achieve their goal and they are defeated on the field of competition, it is often the case that a coach will in fact punish them by forcing them to run even more to increase their strength and decrease the chances of failure in the future.
Runners, on the other hand, run to run. If they win, they go home and run some more. If they lose, they go home and run some more. They just run. Their passion is the punishment for many other sports.
When we think of the word passion, we often reduce it to feelings and emotions. If something is our passion, we mean we really like and/or love it. This definition is correct, if not incomplete.
To have passion is to love something so deeply that you are willing to suffer for it. In a real sense then, running plays a part in manifesting every athlete’s passion. It is the suffering they endure for the thing they truly love.
The apostle Paul clearly communicates this idea in I Corinthians 9:26-27. He writes, “I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Passion is the willingness to suffer for a purpose.
Thanks in part to the now classic movie by Mel Gibson, “The Passion of the Christ,” the word passion evokes images of Jesus suffering on the cross. Nowhere in history has passion been more clearly seen than in the cross of Jesus Christ.
Every year, we celebrate Good Friday. This is the day on which the ultimate evil was done to the holy and sinless son of God to make available the ultimate good, our redemption and salvation. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his stripes, we are healed.”
Jesus, the Christ, loved us so much that he was willing to suffer for us. In a very real sense, then, we are his passion. What was meant to be our punishment was his main event and the means through which he accomplished his purpose.
The cross of Christ is not simply intended to create sorrow for his suffering on our behalf, but to inspire us to share in the purpose of his suffering as we seek to carry his saving grace to others. His passion should move us to compassion.
The word compassion comes from two Latin words meaning with and suffer. To have compassion then isn’t just to feel sorry for but to suffer with. Christ’s passion should become our own. We shouldn’t stop when we receive our own salvation, but instead seek to further Christ’s mission by loving those he loved and sharing his grace with the world he came to save.
Running may not be the passion of every athlete, but the same suffering is necessary if they are to achieve their greater purposes. We will never suffer like Christ for the sake of the world, but we can share his struggle as we seek to love the world as deeply and selflessly as possible. His passion should drive us to compassion as we love him and love others, even if and when it hurts.
The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at jeremysmyers.com. Send comments to [email protected].