Two roads diverged in a wood and I –
I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference. Robert Frost
What is the new normal going to be like?
There is no shortage of competing facts and predictions.
On the one hand – over 40,000 UK Covid 19 related deaths, a dramatic economic downturn and increasing levels of unemployment along with warnings about a second virus spike, some sort of social distancing for the foreseeable future, increasing mental stress and domestic violence, a backlog of delayed hospital treatments and deepening social inequality.
On the other – cleaner air, the success of working from home and on line meetings, dramatic reductions in the use of coal, huge demonstrations for racial justice, the news that 80 organisations have requested the Scottish Government to use this crisis as a springboard for improved socially equality and 200 top UK firms and investors have demanded that the UK Government build a green recovery.
Jesus also lived at a time of crisis. Roman rule was spreading out into all the known world. It brought an end to a long sequence of civil wars and invasions. The Pax Romana was good for trade and business flourished and a self-congratulating Caesar Augustus claimed to be Son of God, Prince of Peace and Light of the World! But Roman rule was ruthless – taxes rose steeply especially for the poorest, and exploitation of the weak by the rich and powerful was both expected and easy for those in power. For the poorest life was increasingly unsustainable. More and more homeless and workless people, like Lazarus, lay starving at the gates of the rich Sadducee families, tax farmers and temple bureaucrats. In this polarised situation Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, a cumbersome English phrase trying to convey a transformed society in the world; a new creation governed according to God’s will. In this Kingdom, which Jesus saw himself inaugurating, social justice and personal integrity (righteousness in biblical language) are as central as faith.
In our coronavirus crisis it’s obvious that we should be concerned for and pray for those who are sick and dying, for the bereaved and those suffering acute mental stress because they work on the front line or are lonely and isolated in lockdown or facing unemployment or the ruin of cherished dreams. And it’s also easy to long for a return to the normal we knew before all this started. But can we also hold on to that bigger, wider vision of a world transformed into God’s Kingdom, a world of social justice and personal integrity, where exploitation of people and exploitation of the planet are reduced?
Crisis – from the Greek krisis meaning the moment of decision, a crossover, time to choose. But what do we choose, as individuals, as a church, as a nation?
- A return of the old, safe and familiar normal in spite of all its growing inequalities and injustices?
- Or do we risk going down the road less travelled, the one that leads towards the Kingdom, God’s transformed world?
The first may well be impossible anyway, but the second demands an unusually high level of political will and leadership if we are to rise to that challenge at a more than personal level. A lot to pray for but all encapsulated in some words we know well –
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done – on earth