“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
– Hebrews 12:1-2
Lots of people want to be considered iconic. Lots of people want to be remembered for years after their deaths for doing great things, having great ideas, or simply being a nice person. Lots of people want to be remembered for something here on Earth, perhaps as a way to still cling to this frail world. We take pictures of special events in an effort to preserve people and accomplishments, in hopes that we’ll never, ever forget one moment in history. We want iconic lives that will be talked about.
Yesterday at church, we learned that Christians saints that we see engraved on icons were not passive individuals. They didn’t simply sit around and say their prayers and hope for a better world. No, many of the saints that have gone on before did really, really big things for the Lord. St. Perpetua threw herself into the arena to be martyred for Christ (despite just giving birth to a baby!), St. Benedict created a special rule that helped guide monks into holy living, St. Julian of Norwich wrote fervently and lived alone for the sake of the Lord (despite her femaleness in Medieval England), and St. Therese of Lisieux, overcame her temper for the cause of Christ and often served the ones she disliked the most. There are hundreds of more saints in the Catholic and Protestant traditions, but these are just a
few examples of active living for Christ.
Of course, the single mom who opens her home to someone in need, the pastor who helps an addict overcome her struggle, and the nun who teaches small children at a religious school are all active agents of Christ. Sometimes there’s not a need for martyrdom, going away to a monastery, or even to have visions for one to be iconic. Sometimes, all one needs to do is get up, look around, and help another in need. Sometimes, all it takes is one step.
However, I talk a good talk. I’m not always the example of Christian service. My college was a place where large-scale social justice issues were emphasized and touted because it is something “Jesus would care and do something about,” but it was never explained why Jesus was important in the first place. They all had good intentions, but sometimes, all of the justice work and fervor was exhausting for someone like me who was usually weighed down with academic stress. I probably didn’t care as much as I should have. I’ve turned many a blind eye to several issues (not a very Christ-like thing for me to do).
But like everyone else, I’m striving towards Christ. Whether or not our faith tradition makes us into glorified saints after our deaths or we are eventually forgotten, Christ never forgets our deeds. Even despite our turning a blind eye, ignoring the helpless, or even sharing a cross word with a family member, we’re all still called to help the others in what the author of Hebrews called a “race.” Living the iconic life, whether literally in the form of a wall plaque or metaphorically, is a life of action. A race is never won by standing still, it’s a life of running, falling, getting back up, and running again towards Christ.