On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister became the first man in history to run a mile in less than 4 minutes. Within 2 months, John Landy ran a slightly faster mike. On August 7, the two met together for a historic race. As they moved into the last lap, Landy held the lead. It looked as if he would win, but as he neared the finish he turned to see where the other runner was. Bannister took the lead. Landy later said, “If I hadn’t looked back, I would have won!”
The Christian Life is sometimes compared to running a race. The race is not short so we sprint as fast as we can. Rather, it is like a long distance race or a marathon where endurance is more important than speed. What a beautiful image our second reading gives us today. The saints in heaven including some of our loved ones are cheering us on. They encourage through their words, example, and prayers.
This brief passage from the Letter to the Hebrews gives the Christian clear and concise instructions that are essential to do to successfully finish our spiritual journey in life.
First, we need to lay aside whatever weighs us down. The best marathoners very little in the way of extra body fat. It slows runners down and saps energy quicker. Our possessions and stuff can weigh us down, too. Our hobbies can distract us from is ultimately most important — our relationship with God. Our attitudes can slow us down as well. How often have we seen cocky and arrogant athletes take victory for granted. They do not experience the thrill of victory but the agony and humiliation of defeat. The Rich Fool we heard about a few Sundays ago, presumed he had plenty of time to get ready for death……. He was wrong.
The second key to the Christian life or race is to get rid of sin that clings to us and slows us down or even causes us to give up the race. Sins can become vices, vices can become habits, habits can turn into physical, emotional, and spiritually deadly addiction. Jesus makes it clear how dangerous is sin left unchecked. “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.”
A third and final point the writer makes in today’s second reading is to persevere by keeping our eyes on Jesus. A few weeks ago, I preached on the danger that comes from focusing on ourselves instead of God. John Landy looked away from the finish line just long enough to lose the race. Christians are not only called to look to Jesus, but also to follow his example.
Remember what we need to do to win the most important race there is. Lay aside possessions that distract us and sins that ensnare us. Keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and persevere to the end. If we do this, we will one day be with those Christians in heaven who have been rooting and praying for us.