Would Jesus attend the 2016 Olympics? Or even watch them on television?
I know my TV has been blaring Rio #Olympics this week . . . but if Jesus had a TV, I am not so sure.
Yet in the sense that I believe Jesus is King and reaches out to each person he has created, Jesus is at the Rio games. It's hard to picture, him, though, being truly excited about the NBC coverage. I am sure he is glad at the sight of each one competing with excellence, these ones that he loves. I am also quite sure his heart is torn up about the conditions in the city and for the poor in Rio, whose future is wholly uncertain. I believe his heart would still be grieving for the 11 workers who were killed while building the Rio structures and projects. (What are all of these lives worth?)
I am not so sure he would be attending every Michael Phelps event as his first choice, either. Rather, I can picture him gravitating toward the events featuring the beautiful team comprised of 10 refugees—a small representation of the 65 million (staggering to even type this number, as 65 million lives and souls are behind it) currently displaced refugees in the world.
As the U.S. television coverage triumphantly hails their best and brightest, gleefully announcing the dominant U.S. medal count every minute or so, I can picture Jesus turning off the television and gathering people from the fringes around him—people of every tribe, nation, and color. I picture him showing up at the events that will never be seen on television or reported on the internet. People who literally have almost no one to cheer for them, whose future holds insecurity because the place and the land they come from faces great insecurity.
I picture him asking inappropriate questions that expose power and privilege. I picture him telling stories called parables that illuminate the hearts of the hearers—that is, if they have ears and hearts to hear. I picture his eyes jumping for joy when someone considered the underdog competes and wins; I picture his eyes filled with tears and acceptance when they lose.
I see him surrounded by female athletes without a hint of self-consciousness as he engages them in substantive conversation. He does not comment on them talking like they are at the mall; he doesn't define them by whether they "swim like a man"; he has no interest even in defining them by their husband or their children. He invites them, instead, into a spiritual family—one that both honors and trumps the physical family. I picture these women whom he created as "strong powers"/ezers (Hebrew word in Genesis 2:18) completely at home in his presence.
Then again, Jesus may never have made it to the female Olympic athletes, because he might have been preoccupied with the injustice of sex slavery on BR-116, known as the "highway of exploitation." At over 100 truck stops, thousands of girls as young as nine sell themselves or are sold by others by report for as little as $4, all to put food on their families' tables. As sure as I am sitting here typing, I picture Jesus overturning some of those trucks in righteous anger and leading these girls to safety in his own name.
As Jesus is not an American God, I picture him disappointing the media and offering joyous news to the broken, the bedraggled, and the lost on the streets of Rio. The Kingdom of heaven is near, he would say, and you are invited into it! The true scandal would be not that he kept seeking out the last and the least, but that his heart beats for every last person he encounters:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it! Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (The Message Matthew 11:28-30).
Those drawn to him like a moth to a flame, those who are open to exploring their need and the world's need for such a Savior and King, these are the ones for whom he would have come to Rio to invite to his table: to party, to laugh and cry with, to love.
For the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. Even when the world takes no notice.
Your turn: Have you been watching the Olympics? Based on what you know about Jesus, how would he act at the Rio Games?