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Reflecting on Muhammad Ali and Jesus

If you aren’t old enough to remember the late sixties and the seventies, it would be hard to overstate just how big of a deal Muhammad Ali truly was. Maybe he wasn’t too far off when he boldly declared, “I am the greatest”. He was probably the most recognizable person on earth. And in some ways he likely never intended, he pointed us towards the one who is much greater: Jesus.

Ali was kingly. He was the king of the ring. He fought during the golden age of the heavy weight boxer. And he was the best of the best. He didn’t just win. He won with flair and style. He was lighting quick for a big man. There have been many dominant athletes over the years. But there a select few who transcend sport. In my opinion as a sports fan, this group consists of the triumvirate: Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali.  

Ali was prophetic. He didn’t predict the future. But he did pushback on American culture and values. He challenged racism and refused to enlist to fight as a soldier in Vietnam. He was prosecuted for doing so and lost his titles and the opportunity to box. He was exiled from the sport for four long years during his prime before the Supreme Court ruling overturned his conviction.  

Ali was priestly. Muhammad Ali represented his country to the world and the world to his country. He successfully negotiated the release of American hostages held in Iraq with none other than the notorious Saddam Hussein. Later, he went to Afghanistan representing the United Nations as a messenger of peace.

But Muhammad Ali was far from perfect. Like all men, he too was flawed. He once said about boxing, “It’s just a job. Grass grows, bird flies, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.” It’s ironic that the man who lived for peace made his living by fighting others. But Ali exposed something deep in the heart of human beings. He made us all realize we long to have a hero to worship.

Jesus was and is perfect. He achieved peace by dying for others rather than hurting them. He rose from the dead. He is The Prophet, The Priest and The King. He truly is the greatest. Jesus does far more than expose our deep desire to worship a hero. He satisfies that longing.