The Day Before War Broke Out (A Football Match, 1939),
Painted by Paul Smith,
Painted in 2006,
Oil on canvas
© National Football Museum, Manchester
Your endurance will win you your lives
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Men will seize you and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because of my name – and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. Keep this carefully in mind: you are not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relations and friends; and some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name, but not a hair of your head will be lost. Your endurance will win you your lives.’
Reflection on the painting
Let's look for a brief moment at the last sentence of our Gospel passage. Jesus says: 'Your endurance will win you your lives'. We associate the word 'endurance' mainly with the world of sports. In that context, endurance is all about the mindset and ability to sustain a certain intensity (running speed, physical effort, etc.) over a long period of time to reach a certain goal. Not just in today's reading but scattered throughout the New Testament we can find these 'athletic metaphors'.
Endurance in sport goes beyond mere physical strength; it involves mental resilience as well. Building endurance requires consistent training and a gradual increase in intensity over time, in order to achieve the long-term goal. These same parameters can be used for our Christian faith. Endurance in our faith required spiritual stamina and mental resilience, especially when we are navigating periods of crisis or doubt. Similar to consistent training in sports, we build up endurance through regular prayer, meditation and participation in the sacramental life of the church. Furthermore, just as an athlete needs to stick to the rules of his or her sport, we are also called to live our lives in obedience to the Scriptures and the teachings of the church. Actually, Paul writes on this, saying 'An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules' (2 Tim 2:5).
The spiritual life is also about self knowledge. Just as an athlete in training needs to know his or her body and its limits or weaknesses, so are we asked to get to know our 'true self' in the spiritual life and what our weaknesses, shortcomings or temptations are. Whilst there could be even more parallels drawn between the sports life and the spiritual life, probably the most important thing they share is the prime focus on the single aim. In the Christian life, this is very clear: to live in Christ.
Whilst there are many sporting artworks to chose from, I share with you a painting titled 'The Day Before War Broke Out (A Football Match, 1939)' by Paul Smith. As we are still in the month of November and remember the fallen soldiers, it is a good painting to look at at this time of year. Also the autumnal brown, restrained colour palette works well too. We see the athlete players on the field. Their sole aim is to score a goal.
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