One of Jesus’ most common didactic formulas was the phrase “the kingdom of God is like … .” Jesus told stories or parables of common illustrations that related to the experiences of his hearers and have served as timeless word pictures for his followers throughout the centuries.
Friday night, as I watched the replay of the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, I was drawn to the parabolic technique of our Master. If the Lord were to share a parable with the world on this unifying day, perhaps it would be something like this:
The kingdom of heaven is like the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Amidst a worldwide pandemic of unprecedented disease and death, athletes from across the globe come together. Delegates from more than 200 countries file into the arena, each donning their own unique culture, tradition and fashion. People from a wide array of nations, tribes and tongues assemble unified in one goal and purpose. While weeping lasts for a moment as the world pauses in silence to mourn the death of millions, sorrow is traded for joy as the world comes together as one. Interlocking multi-colored rings symbolize the unity of the entire globe. “Imagine all the people.”
Wars, hostility, conflict, hatred, revenge, and all forms of evil are set aside as athletes gather together. In these moments, all who come stand together as human beings. Males and females, side by side, wave the flags of their countries. Here, all are celebrated, regardless of the color of their skin. From behind the masks there is a smile in each person’s eyes. Joy is exuberant! Spirits are high! Humanity is together!
“If we can come together as a global community to compete for a gold medal, could we come together to live according to the Golden Rule?”
Amidst the darkness of night, a celestial body of 1,800 drones illuminate the sky like a unified globe of the world. What has long been awaited has finally arrived, and the games are officially commenced as a unifying Olympic flag is raised. Pictograms dramatize the 50 different fields of competition with expressive imagery. The torch is carried into the arena and the cauldron is finally lit, aglow with the flame — a light that unifies the world. Light overcomes the darkness.
The opening ceremony appears timeless. While it occurs in a moment, many around the world will experience it hours later than it originally occurs. The realities of this union are both now and yet to come.
The world comes together for the Olympics. What would happen if we came together to end the pandemic? What if we united to feed every hungry child and to provide health care for every senior citizen? What if we refused to be colorblind and were intentional to recognize the unique value of every human being regardless of race, nationality or language?
If we can come together as a global community to compete for a gold medal, could we come together to live according to the Golden Rule?
The Light of the World has come; may we carry the Light into all the dark spaces of the world. To the degree that we choose to come together, we will see the now of the not-yet kingdom of God. We can fulfill Jesus’ own prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
And we might add this: “I hope that someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.”
Lord, give us the spirit of the Olympics!
Patrick Wilson serves as senior pastor of Salem Avenue Baptist Church in Rolla, Mo. He is a graduate of Baylor University, earned two master’s degrees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a doctor of ministry degree from Logsdon Seminary.