As most of us are well-aware, the coronavirus has hit the United States, and it is likely not going away anytime soon. In response, most of us are doing one of two things. We are either 1.) losing our minds, or 2.) sticking our heads in the sand.
Those of us who have lost our minds seem to have really lost it. Cleaning supplies, paper towels, and toilet paper are sold out. There is a completely unfounded fear out there that the coronavirus has infected the water, so bottled water will probably be the next item that disappears from grocery store shelves. Rash and unwise financial decisions are on the rise. People have gone so far as to steal masks and hand sanitizer from hospitals—leaving health care workers without the supplies that they need to do their jobs. It’s a hot mess.
Then there are the ostriches. Those of us who are ostriches are in complete and total denial about the coronavirus. It’s a massive conspiracy theory. Closing schools and universities, and restricting nursing home visits is ridiculous. The coronavirus is no worse, or no different than the flu. We have better healthcare than other countries do, so this isn’t going to affect us at all. The media has made all of this up. There’s no problem here, and everyone else is a moron.
So, this all kind of leaves us in an exhausting place. We’re either falling apart at the seams, or not taking any of this seriously at all. There is no in-between, and therefore no place for any of us to rest. For the people who are seeking security through their ability to stockpile supplies in their bunkers, their brains don’t just calm down once they’ve left Walmart with everything that they needed. They’re still anxious. They’re still panicked. Because deep down, they know that hoarding toilet paper isn’t going to save them—but they don’t want to admit that. And as for the people who have convinced themselves that this whole thing is fake—they are still experiencing fear, too. They are just dealing with it differently. Rather than buying out the grocery store—they are trying to find salvation in their rationale and intelligence. That’s why so many of these folks feel compelled to pound away at their keyboards on social media, and to tell everyone they see what they think about the coronavirus. They are scared, and reiterating what they know or what they think they know to calm them down is the best way that they personally cope with fear. We are all looking for comfort. We are all looking for encouragement. We are all looking for some certainty. We’re just looking for it in different ways, and we are all failing to find it on both ends of the spectrum.
In Mark 12, Jesus is in Jerusalem, and He is teaching in the Temple. Up to this point in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has been very quiet and unassuming in His ministry. He heals illnesses and casts out demons—but begs the people who witness it not to tell anybody. Jesus has amassed huge amounts of followers, but He is constantly retreating from them and going to pray in quiet places. He preaches mostly in the countryside—arriving in remote places by boat, and then leaving just as quickly as He came. Jesus is making waves, but for whatever reason, He is being elusive about it all.
But then in chapter 10, Jesus shows up in Jerusalem for the Passover, and its like somebody finally flipped the light switch on. Jesus’s followers welcome Him into the city with a parade fit for a king, and He obliges them. Then, He immediately goes to the Temple, throws out the money-changers, curses a fig tree, and starts teaching. Its important to remember that the Passover was a huge Jewish holiday. In that time period, Jewish people from all over the continent would travel to Jerusalem in order for them to take part in the celebration. So, Jerusalem is packed. And when people start seeing how enamored Jesus’s followers are with Him, and hearing Jesus teach, they start getting interested, too. Jesus’s popularity soars, and the Messiah who once tried His best to stay hidden is suddenly a very public figure.
The religious authorities are not happy about this. Some Pharisees and Scribes had already been to see Jesus a few times before, but in light of His step into the spotlight, it would appear that the religious authorities are in crisis mode. As the religious people in charge, they were used to enjoying a certain amount of power among the Jewish people. They were used to being respected, and to receiving perks from their positions. And if Jesus’s popularity continues to grow—the authorities know that they are going to lose it all. So, they have to do something. But they can’t arrest Jesus. Doing that would send the crowd into a frenzy. So, what they decide to do is to try to undermine Jesus by trying to make Him look like an idiot in front of everyone.
They approach Jesus in the Temple and start asking Him questions. The first one that they ask is about paying taxes. The Pharisees—who are first up to bat—want to know if it is lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not. In this time period, this was a very loaded question. The question of whether or not a nation of people who proclaimed Yahweh to be their king should pay taxes to the emperor—who was believed to be a god by the Roman Empire—had long been a point of contention. If Jesus said no, He could be classified as a dangerous left-wing zealot who wasn’t worth the trouble. But if He said yes, the oppressed people of Israel who were hoping for freedom would be disappointed and might abandon ship. The Pharisees think that their cleverness is going to save them.
It does not. Jesus asks for a coin, asks whose picture is on it (Caesar’s), and makes the now famous statement: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And the people are amazed at his wisdom.
The Sadducees get their turn next. They decide not just to use their wit, but also their knowledge of scripture. There was a Moses Law called Levirate marriage, where if a man died and he had no children, his brother—or closest kin—would marry his wife. The first child that they had together would be considered the dead man’s child—thus continuing the bloodline. So, the Sadducees want to know if a woman marries seven brothers—all of whom die before her, and none of whom produce a child with her—whose wife will she be in the resurrection? It seems like a real brain teaser. The Pharisees and the Sadducees get excited—thinking that this question is going to be the one that Jesus stumbles on—the moment where their knowledge preserves their status.
But—surprise! Its not. Jesus explains that in the resurrection, marriage is not a concept that will be on the radar, and that they are thinking about this all wrong.
Now its the Scribes’ turn. This is the last shot. If the Scribes don’t hit a home run, the religious authorities are out. So they ask: “Which commandment is the first of all?” For what its worth—this is actually a really good question. And I sense some sincerity here. I’m not sure that the Scribes were necessarily trying to be tricky with this one. I think they just wanted to know, so as to be sure that they were living their lives right. But in a way, that is where they stumbled. There is nothing wrong with being curious, or with being conscientious about one’s behavior. But when a person gets obsessive about if they are in the right or in the wrong, its easy to fall into this state of mind where you think that your own ability to “do” is going to save you. And we all know that it doesn’t work that way. Jesus replies with this, what we call the Greatest Commandment: “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The religious authorities admit defeat, and they crawl away to make a new plan.
Obviously, the analogy isn’t perfect. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Scribes trying to discredit Jesus isn’t directly comparable to a public health emergency. Coronavirus is different, and I know that. But my point is that the motivations behind the behavior are the same. In both instances, we either want to rely on our actions, or rely on our intelligence, and in both instances, we fail to find the rest and the reassurance that we are looking for. In both cases, the problem is way bigger than us, and way above our pay grade. But in both situations, the answer is also the same. The answer is love.
We are commanded to love God and to love our neighbors because God is love, and we are made in His image. Love is what He originally created this world and us for. All of Creation was to be whole, peaceful, and harmonious. We were supposed to care for one another. We were supposed to be interconnected. There wasn’t supposed to be jealousy, competition, hate, and strife. We were supposed to love God as He loves us, and love one another as He loves us. Love is God’s character and God’s essence.
This is still true, even in a fallen and broken world. We aren’t quite there yet—Easter is still a few weeks away—but this is what Jesus teaches us on the cross. That God would rather die at our hands than to fight back and to be hateful towards us. God is love. God is grace. God is mercy, peace, and justice. And that is never going to change. God is always with us, and He is always loving us. And we can rest in that. We can find peace and comfort there, whether we are just dealing with our own pettiness, or we are in the midst of a crisis. God’s love never fails. It never goes away. And as panic and fear over the coronavirus continues to spread, God’s love is going to be where we can root down and find strength and reassurance.
When we feel panicked in the coming days, we can take a few deep breaths and ask God for His peace. When the fear becomes too much, we can remember that God loves us. And we can allow that love to chip away at the fear. When we feel powerless and hopeless, we can pray. We can tell God that we know that He has the whole world in His hands, and ask for grounding. When our neighbors tell us how frightened they are, we can do something nice for them. We can give them an encouraging word, or share some supplies with them. We can go on a walk with them. We can let them know that we are praying for them. Its not much—but showing people that there is still goodness in the world when everything is off-kilter can make a big difference. People will be able to find God’s love through you.
This doesn’t mean that people who have faith will have immunity. This is a tricky juxtaposition of living in a world where the Kingdom of God is partially here, but also partially not. I can’t promise that because we rest in God’s love and have faith in Him that everything is going to turn out exactly the way that we want it to. Bad things do and always will happen. Faith is not a transaction. Just because we give God something good doesn’t mean that He is required to repay us in kind. If God worked like that—He’s be a magic genie—not God. We’d essentially become our own gods, because we would get everything that we want all the time. The coronavirus is not going to suddenly disappear. But God will be with us all the way. He will provide with the strength that we need. He will provide us with the comfort that we crave. His presence will offer peace and hope. He will mourn with us if we mourn, and grieve with us if we grieve. We can depend on God’s love. It never fails us. We can rest in God’s love in times of blessing and in times of trouble.
The God who was with Adam and Eve—even after kicking them out of Eden—He is with you. The God who kept a promise to Abraham and Sarah—even though they kept taking matters into their own hands and made a real mess out of things—is faithful to you. The God who delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt has and will deliver you. The God who listened to Hannah cry out for a child listens to you. The God who kept loving Israel—even as they fell into idolatry—loves you. The God who kept watch over His people during the exile will keep watch over you. The God who never abandoned Peter—even when He abandoned Jesus—will never abandon you. The God who breathed life and hope into this world by allowing us to kill Him, defeating death, rising again, and giving His Spirit to us to live in us—will continue to breath into us hope and new life. We can’t be certain of many things in this world. But of this we can be certain—that God’s love is what we can cling to.
So, we don’t have to be afraid, Friends. We don’t have to be hopeless. We don’t have to take it upon ourselves to save our ourselves, especially if our way of saving ourselves is getting into fist-fights in Walmart over household supplies. Frankly, we can’t save ourselves—not by pretending that there is nothing going on, or by panicking. We are only going to drive ourselves crazy. So wash your hands. Be wise. If you are immunocompromised or elderly, take the appropriate precautions. If you are feeling sick, do your best not to spread it to others. Don’t unnecessarily hoard food and other items. We can let other people buy them, too. Don’t steal supplies from hospitals and doctor’s offices. They are going to need medical supplies more than any of us will. But take heart, and rest in God’s love. Have hope in the fact that He cares for you, and for everyone else in this entire world. If God didn’t, He would have washed His hands of us a long time ago. God is trustworthy. Life won’t always turn out the way that we want it to, but we can rely on God to get us through and to love us like crazy. We can depend on Him for deliverance. And we can depend on one another when we embody God’s love well, which is something that the world desperately needs right now. Do not fear, Friends. Rest in God’s love, and be God’s love. Take courage, for He has conquered the world.
To wrap this up, here is one of my very favorite Bible passages, from I John. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.