The world’s leading swimmer in the 400 metres will not compete in this event at the Olympic Games this year. Ian Thorpe’s catastrophic moment in falling off the starting block in the Olympic trial yesterday resulted in his disqualification from the trial, thereby denying him a place in the event in Athens, and has stunned the sporting world. Administrators – as they are wont to do – are standing by the rules, regardless of the sense.
It is reminiscent of an encounter many years ago when administrators of the law castigated Jesus for healing a person in the synagogue on the Sabbath. After all, the rules were most important, and Jesus was doing something which the law did not allow. On a separate occasion he was derided for allowing his disciples to pick grain in order to satisfy their hunger. The leaders could not handle it; the law needed to be upheld, regardless of the outcome. Jesus’ oft-repeated response, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” is to remind us that laws serve the needs of humanity, not the other way around. While we rightly think long and hard before doing something contrary to the dictates of the law, the wise recognise that the law does not always serve the best interests of individuals or communities. We still need to be able to treat individual circumstances according to merit. The law is the last instrument to adapt to changes in circumstances and in society.
Religion’s greatest challenge is to deal with the vast array of traditions and laws which have aided its expression in the lives of individuals and communities through the years. While these traditions and laws have brought benefit in the past, they exist to serve, lest we disqualify the very qualities we encourage people to aspire to in this age. It is not only religious people who have adopted a slavish subservience to the law over common sense and individual compassion.
But there is another thought which runs through my mind in relation to yesterday’s events. Entering an event containing the two best in the world, and from which only two people can be selected seems an exercise in futility. I can only hear the words of an absent-minded fish from Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.” Sometimes it is mere perseverance that is needed – more than talent. I am sure that Craig Stevens will remember the value of persistence as he continues his preparation for Athens in this event.
And so too may we know the value of perseverance in forlorn times. God rewards those who persevere... in prayer and in action.
March 28, 2004