My parents moved from Southern California to Hawaii when I was 13. Going through grade school, (K through 8 grade), was challenging for me with the exception of track. Southern California was the running capital of the US. Our school had a track team and we competed with several other school, in the state. I was considered the fastest kid on our team, and our team placed in the top three schools in all the meets we entered. It was said that the only reason I was the fastest was because my older, (by 2 years), brother was the second fastest team member.
The message from the Letter to the Hebrews tells us following Christ is like running a race and encourages us to persevere in running the race, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. He paints a picture of a huge stadium. In the stands are all the saints who have gone before and won the prize of heaven. They are watching and cheering for those of us who are still in the race, for us Christians who are still struggling to resist hardship and temptation and stay faithful to Christ. And on the track, there inside this stadium, we are running. And it's hard, we're tempted to slow down, to get distracted, to give up.
One of the other reasons I was considered the fastest was because I followed the message from my coach “keeping our eyes fixed on the finish line.” And I did, there was nothing that could stop me once the starter’s gun went off. Jesus was sent by the Father on a mission. He was to establish the kingdom of God, preaching the Good News of repentance and salvation. That was his “finish line.”
In his teaching, Jesus was offering us the path to new life. Yet he knew not all would embrace his message, especially if his words challenged their behavior and attitudes. He himself persevered on his mission, running the race, so to speak. We should do the same, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus who embraced the cross that we might have life.
Jesus taught his disciples, and us if we listen, what it means to live in the kingdom, and the behaviors and values inherent in doing so: mercy, unconditional love, commitment to justice, concern for the least ones and more. He knows that following him is difficult. At times it means enduring bitter conflicts, as Jesus mentioned in the Gospel passage today. I don't know what distraction each of us needs to leave behind in order to focus on Christ. But Jesus does. He has probably already been whispering it in our hearts - and if he hasn't, he will. With our eyes fixed on Jesus, let us walk in his way and trust that life now and forever awaits those who are faithful.