Last Thursday, I lost a game of squash. And what a fantastic time I had!
Allow me to explain.
I play at Trojans and I had the privilege of playing the club champion. His name is Kevin Harris and – forgive the cliché – he is a ‘legend’ at our club, having won our club championship . . . not sure . . . many, many times. 14 or 15, I think. Maybe more.
He’s 48 or so now and after beating me, he will probably go on to win another title. At age 48. If you know anything about squash, you’ll realise how remarkable that is.
It was truly an honour to compete against him. But more than that, I was extremely grateful for the way he played. He was a real gentleman. In squash, if you’re significantly better than your opponent, you can make them look rather foolish. Let’s be honest, he could have won in ten minutes.
He could have squashed me, pun intended.
Instead, he played a length, never played a drop shot, always lobbed it to the back to keep the point going. I was 7-5 up in the second game, due to his generosity, and for a moment I thought I might sneak a game. But I was a rusty Ford Fiesta in the middle lane, while he was the Red Ferrari passing me on the outside. He simply put his foot down and purred by, 9-7. Take a breather, mate.
The experience caused me to consider a story in the gospels. You may know it. Jesus meets his friend Simon Peter after a rather frustrating night ‘fishing’ on the Sea of Galilee. After teaching from the boat, he asks Peter to take it out one more time. Come on, let’s have another go. You can tell Peter’s a bit ticked about the request. You can imagine him thinking . . .
‘I get the idea that you’re someone special, not sure exactly what that means, but fishing? You think you know fishing? That’s my job and trust me, there ain’t no fish right now. You stick to the carpentry and give me some respect. I know these waters like the proverbial back of my hand and when the fish don’t bite, they don’t bite.’ Sigh. ‘But because it’s you . . . ‘
So they let down the nets – no doubt with a fair amount of harrumphing along the way – and whaddya know? Fish are practically jumping into the boat. Now, what I like here is Peter’s reaction.
Lord, I’m a sinner.
In the presence of greatness, he immediately recognises his own inadequacy.
There are human beings and then there’s this man before me. I’m not like him.
I am not worthy.
There was a chasm in class between myself and Kevin Harris but there on the Sea of Galilee? The gap was so vast, so enormous, Peter could only bow in worship. I’m reminded of John the Baptist, hugely popular at the time, who told the crowds, ‘I am not worthy even to untie his sandals.’ He is above and beyond me. Far, far greater than I. He is worthy of worship.
(Side note: How interesting that after Lionel Messi’s mesmerizing performance in the Champions League last Wednesday, his coach, Luis Enrique described him as ‘a player from another dimension.’)
Back to Trojans.
When you play someone like Kevin Harris, it’s hard not to be overawed. He is uncommonly gifted on a squash court, and my own deficiencies were quickly exposed. I am not one to worship sportsmen or women – how foolish is that? – but to compete against a top sportsman, it’s hard to avoid expressing this kind of sentiment:
‘It’s an honour to play against you today.’
It was indeed an honour to play squash with someone whose gifts are far beyond my own. But I use the word ‘honour’ because above all, I was treated well. He did not squash me, he let me play. I was not nearly good enough to compete with him properly but he kept the rally going. I was included, even if the result was a foregone conclusion.
I wonder if you’re one of those who has dreamed of meeting a sportsman or woman whom you admire. What would it be like to kick a football around with Ronaldo or Messi? Go jogging with Usain Bolt or Mo Farah?
In my case, I would die to knock a ball up and down with Roger Federer.
And how blessed were those guys who were fit enough to run next to Paula Radcliffe during the London Marathon? One of them held her hand as she ran towards the finishing tape.
Unforgettable. And yes, what an honour.
And there’s Peter who thought he knew a thing or two about fishing. Was he humiliated by a man with powers far beyond his own? Squashed? Maybe a little at first. Who knows? I thought I just told you there are no fish . . .
But for Simon Peter, it was not just an honour to be in the presence of a great man.
His encounter with Jesus brought him to his knees.
But the Lord didn’t let him stay there. He showed him kindness. He invited him in. He lifted him up. He kept the rally going and let him play. He showed him grace.
Simon Peter may have felt squashed, but he was lifted up.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”
What an honour. What a privilege.
To be invited to join the Son of Man in his work.
Surely Simon Peter would never forget the day when he was squashed, then lifted up.
© Richard Collins 2015
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