This blog post is a product of a conversation I had the other day. In being a student of Justice and Mission at Denver Seminary as well as working in ministry with athletes I am constantly thinking about what it looks like to have athletes engage in the mission of God as well as critically think and compassionately act on behalf of the poor, powerless, marginalized, and oppressed in our world today. I have consistently run into road blocks of seeing people really grasp the social nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, that what He did not only brought about a spiritual revolution, but a social one as well. When Christ speaks in the synagogue in Luke 4 out of the prophecy in Isaiah, He says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the bling, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19 ESV) As Christ talks about His mission here in this passage we not only see the spiritual revival that comes because He is the sacrificial Lamb of God, the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, but His words have a strikingly social ring to them, especially as the end of the passage speaks of the "year of the Lord's favor". The year of the Lord's favor is the year of Jubilee in the Israelite calendar which is spoken of in Leviticus 25:8-14 saying, "You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field. In this year of jubilee each of you shall return to his property. And if you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another."
In understanding this gospel that not only touches hearts, but touches lives as well, I have realized that the crux of the issue with athletes is the idea of compassion. Compassion of itself means to suffer with. As I think of compassion I think of Christ. Hebrews 4:15-16 says, "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Christ in His compassion took on flesh, left paradise to come "suffer with" humanity thus saving us from our sins by become sin for us! If we are to suffer with the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed then we are called to extent hearts of compassion and suffer with those who are suffering.
However the issue in regards to compassion is the issue of competition. Competition is defined as "the act or process of trying to get or win something (such as a prize or a higher level of success) that someone else is also trying to get or win". Competition in itself pits us against each other. It forces us to see ourselves as separate entities from others in order to gain and advantage over another. This is the difficulty for athletes, we are called to "suffer with"; however we have been trained our entire life to see ourselves separately and in opposition to others.
So how are these two things reconciled? This is a question I have been struggling with; however I believe as with everything we must come back to the cross. In 2 Corinthians Paul gives us a framework for understanding our mission in the world, he says in verses 18-21, "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." The very aim of reconciliation is to take things that were at odds with each other and bring them back together again. In Christ we have been reconciled to God, to each other, and to creation. Thus in athletics we must begin to redeem this broken culture that sees us as separate individuals, embrace the idea of "team" in being on a single unified mission, fail to see ourselves as separate form the team, and embrace the mission that God has given to all of us on and off the field.