“Chariots of Fire” is the Oscar-winning movie that told the story of Eric Liddell, the Olympic gold medalist raised in Scotland. Liddell was born in China into a family of Christian missionaries. As a young child, he wanted to be a missionary in a distant land.
However, he began to pursue athletics because of his superior talent as a runner. As he trained and raced to victory in the Olympics, he maintained a strong spiritual perspective on his life. He was known to have said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”
After reaching the heights of athletic achievement with an Olympic victory, Liddell’s spiritual longings deepened. The fame of being an Olympic gold medalist did not change him. In fact, Olympic success only strengthened his long desire to bring the Gospel to others.
On his return to Scotland, after winning two medals at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris, he said, “It has been a wonderful experience to compete in the Olympic Games and to bring home a gold medal. But since I have been a young lad, I have had my eyes on a different prize. You see, each one of us is in a greater race than any I have run in Paris, and this race ends when God gives out the medals!”
Following his Olympic victory, Liddell moved to China, where he fulfilled his long-felt desire to bring others to faith in Jesus Christ as a missionary. As World War II drew to a close, he was imprisoned and eventually died in China as a prisoner of war in a Japanese internment camp.
In our celebrity-focused culture, we esteem athletes, movie stars and billionaire business owners for their achievements. We admire their athleticism, good looks and wealth. Yet human achievements are only part of the prize. How one lives in relationship to God and to others is of deeper and more lasting significance.
In today’s Gospel, great crowds begin to follow Jesus who turns to address them. What did the crowds seek? Did they have an intuition that Jesus was the answer to the question that was their own life?
Jesus’ words may have puzzled the crowds. For aren’t we meant to love those Jesus names, that is our parents, spouse, children, brothers and sisters? Putting God first, above even the close relationships of family, is the challenge Jesus gives us today.
“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple,” says Jesus. No one escapes bearing his or her own cross in life. But when we put God first, we are given the strength to carry our cross with God’s grace. For the grace to carry my cross today I pray, “speak to me, Lord.”