Jesus, Our Coach: How Christ Helps Us Focus on the Ultimate Goal

User's Guide to Sunday, Aug. 14

Sunday, Aug. 14, is the 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C). Mass Readings: Jeremiah 38:4-6, 8-10; Psalms 40:2-4, 18; Hebrews 12:1-4; Luke 12:49-53

Today’s readings present Jesus in a metaphor that we can easily relate to in the middle of the Olympics: a coach.

“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” says the Letter to the Hebrews, “let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.”

The image is of a stadium. The Christian is running an endurance race in front of a crowd of champions — saints — past winners of the race.

The metaphor continues, suggesting that the distractions of the world make it hard to run: We have to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.” He is our coach, the “leader and perfecter of faith.” A coach reminds us what we are running for. He models the right form. And he motivates us to keep going. Jesus is the perfect example of this.

The Gospel starts out exciting and ends difficult. Jesus, sounding coach-like, says: “I have come to set fire on the earth. And, oh, how I wish it were already blazing.” He wants to “shake us up” and help us find our focus. He is anxious to see us succeed in the spiritual life, and he wants his urgency to be infectious. He comes to give the fire of the Holy Spirit: to purify, burn away the chaff and fill us with his love.

But we can only have success if we focus on him. And we easily get distracted.

“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?” he asks. “No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on, a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three.” He will divide families, he says, to make us keep our focus on the one goal we have: winning the race; to set the world on fire with God’s love. In the many stories shown during the Olympics, we can see how world-class athletes have to change their relationships with their families when they become competitive. They need to focus on the race. So do we. It isn’t that the runner, or the Christian, rejects his or her family; it’s just that the dominating focus of attention is the goal of winning.

One of the spectators watching us is Jeremiah. His story is told in the first reading. This was a man who was focused on the most important thing: God and his message for humanity. And he was tortured for it. Our coach did the same, as the second reading tells us: “Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

His book, What Pope Francis Really Said, is available for preorder at Amazon.com.

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