Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. -Gospel of Matthew 5:7
He has been working on Sundays for 18 years, but he is not a minister by profession. He is a minister, however, by virtue of his passion. He is a minister of mercy.
If I were to choose a biblical verse that best depicted the power of Super Bowl-bound quarterback Peyton Manning, I would look no further than St. Matthew's Gospel and the beatitude of mercy.
The Beatitudes are as natural to Jesus' teachings as MVPs are to Peyton. This central teaching of Jesus is both the foundation and the ultimate goal of people who become champions of faith. Put another way, to embody such wisdom is the highest level of spiritual excellence, and not unlike football, as my beloved Broncos know, it takes practice to get there. To take a page from Peyton's playbook, it takes deep dedication, a love of learning, and a willingness to take action and go out of your way for the well being of another.
To this end, the power of Peyton is not just the longevity of his greatness on the field but the quality of his work off the field. While his body has endured a career-threatening neck injury and nerve degeneration a few years ago that left him barely able to throw a football, Peyton is today a miracle in motion physically. But he has been setting miracles in motion in the most ultimate ways his whole career.
I was lucky enough to watch Peyton at the beginning of his college career at the University of Tennessee, often making the 45-minute drive from my hometown to the Knoxville campus in my 1983 Subaru sedan during my last two years of high school. Now as a resident of Denver, I am witnessing the culmination of his legendary professional career and savoring every second I can of what appears to be his "last rodeo."
Then and now, all the way from Rocky Top to the Rocky Mountains, the power of Peyton is measured not in touchdown passes, MVP trophies, a Super Bowl Championship, or even his famous commercials. To me, Peyton is a commercial for Christianity that is lived out quietly, humbly, and with deepest compassion for those who are vulnerable, weak, and hurting.
Now more than ever, Peyton himself is no stranger to what it is like to be vulnerable, weak, and hurting physically in a sport that hails machismo and muscle but sometimes fails to flex strengths of another sort -- those of character, class, and compassion.
In a day when Americans make a sport of religion and a religion of sports, Peyton is a paragon of character, class, and compassion. He is the incarnation of the words credited to St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words."
Peyton has made himself a media-friendly character when it comes to words. There is good reason for that, as he was a communications major at the University of Tennessee. However, when it comes to embodying the virtues of generosity and faith, he lets his actions speak louder than his words. Peyton proves his faith and generosity by going out of his way to contribute to the well being of others, which is characteristic of that classic beatitude, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy." In this way, Peyton unwittingly communicates the gospel of mercy with an uncommon grace. Perhaps living out the beatitude of mercy means "being in an attitude" that exhibits the quality. If the old adage is true that "attitude determines altitude," Peyton's is at least a mile high.
It's not the high-profile hype that makes Peyton the golden boy of this weekend's golden game in Super Bowl history. It is Peyton's Golden Rule of humility when, for example, he makes surprise phone calls to children in hospitals from Indiana to Tennessee to Louisiana to Colorado. In fact, St. Vincent Children's Hospital in Indianapolis is probably the only pediatric hospital in the country to ever be renamed from a saint to a sports celebrity (St. Vincent Children's Hospital in Indianapolis became the Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent in 2007).
Another example of his mission of mercy was reflected when his Peyback Foundation donated more than $1 million to youth-based organizations across the four aforementioned states for the second year in a row last year. He had the Broncos organization search for three months after receiving a letter to contact the family of U.S. Army Sgt. Ryan Patterson to invite them to a game. He also sends gifts to grieving families and does things like finding time to call a fan with terminal cancer and grant her dying wish to meet and talk. In all of these ways, Peyton is a minister of mercy.
Here in Colorado, there is an advertisement for University of Colorado Health (UC Health) that features Peyton narrating how many hours it takes to become an expert at something, insinuating what dedication creates, whether it is in the medical field or on the football field. Toward the end of the commercial, Peyton says, "At a certain point, it seems that you stop playing the game and start changing it."
Peyton's play on the football field has made him an NFL MVP five times. But his actions off the field make him a spiritual MVP of mercy -- going out of his way to contribute to the well being of others by letting his actions speak louder than his words.
Peyton may be playing his fairytale finale in the 50th year of Super Bowl history. But if indeed his playing days are history, this football legend will no doubt continue to change the exponentially more-important game of life. And all of God's people said: "Omaha."