In the summer of 2016, many of us were spending time watching the wonderful and miraculous accomplishments of the young and strong, and indeed, of the beautiful and determined from many of the countries of the world.
They had gathered for the 31st modern Olympiad being held in the dramatic setting of Rio de Janeiro.
It was staggering to see what these young people could do with their bodies. A number of vignettes told us of the dreams and sacrifices that they and their families had lived since these athletes were children. Now they had competed, and developed, and mastered. And come finally to their event, their race, their special thing that they could do so well.
There were stories of dramatic successes. Of seemingly impossible dreams fulfilled and hopes realized. Until one athlete was in the racks ready to run. And suddenly a split-second before the gun fired to "go," the young man leapt forward to start his race. It was his moment. But he was a micro-second ahead of everyone else. He had "jumped the gun."
Had he tried to gain an advantage over the others? Was his leap forward intentional? Or, was it an over-eager mistake? Or "nerves" that had carried him away?
This time there was no debate, no consideration, no second chance. For this race, this time in his life, there was no second chance. No forgiveness. The judges ruled he was disqualified. Immediately, it was over for that young man. The enormity of what had happened overwhelmed him. He fell to his knees. He buried his face in the cinders of the track. He cried out. He was mortified. Ashamed. Overwhelmed with grief. It was over. His chance was gone. He hung his head. He walked off the track. He looked no-one in the eye. He talked to no reporters. It was the end of his dream.
Had he intended to seek a second's advantage? Or, was it nerves? An inadvertent mistake? He probably didn't really know, himself. But the rules were there. They were unchanging and unforgiving.
What is ahead for that young man? Is there any second chance, or repechage as the French have it, for intentional wrong competition? Some way to take a longer track, to pay a certain penance, and find you are forgiven, and have another chance?
While we do not understand it, the whole understanding of Jesus' way, is forgiveness. The cross, and the shame, and humiliation it brought to Jesus--and was intended to bring, could only have been worse than anything we, or that Olympic athlete, have born?
Forgiveness is almost beyond our human dimension of experience. We think there is no way out. God says there is always a way out. It is the way of sorry. It is the way of repenting for what we have done. It is the way of asking God to give us eyes to see ourselves and the world. To see our failure as something God wants to redeem, buy back, make over.
The way of forgiveness, the way of the cross, is the way of sacrifice. It is the way of seeing ourselves beheld differently by the One Who actually gave us our lives in the first place. It is the way of establishing, through God's life-giving love, a new way of seeing ourselves and the world. It is the way of change. Changing our hearts, loving to sacrifice, to serve, to give ourselves away - to others. And, in so doing, to be ourselves changed with redemptive chances given to us, of which we could only have dreamed.
There is ahead, a new day, for that young athlete who made a false start. And, there is a new day ahead for us, for whenever we've made a false start. Something better comes for us. Better than Olympic gold. Divine gold. A reality that comes re-born from heaven.
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES