As the coronavirus makes its way across the world (yes, Mr. President, it is already here), panic has ensued, reflected in grocery stores depleted of toiletries and sanitizer, airlines shutting down travel, nation-wide bans, college closings, market craters, church live streaming, and individual and communal anxiety rising to an all-time high. While the US government does little in the face of this pandemic, we are forced into an eerie apocalyptic desperation where good sense, practical means, and respect for science seem lacking. We are in times that are straight from Hollywood fiction and yet, the events reveal we were only an epidemic or pandemic away from uncovering the problems of our democracy and our systems.
Honestly, this should be no surprise. People should not have to die for us to see the glaring weaknesses of our healthcare system. People should not have to be in a state of desperation for us to see the lack of public health planning. Human beings should not have to bear these burdens. But they do…and the ones who will bear the largest burden are those who are not insured, who have pre-existing conditions, who do not have homes, who have mental illness, who are poor, who cannot take off work or work from home, who cannot simply leave college because their institution shut down (went cyber?), who cannot skip school because they have to eat. They suffer because of the systems that cannot handle one crisis ounce, one virus, one real challenge to change. They die because of the systems that favor those insulated by privilege and not the majority of the citizens who are affected. They are in pain because of the systems that care more about the market than they do about humanity.
Where is Christ within the crowded desperation that COVID-19 has created!?
John 5 tells us:
Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew, Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. 3In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. 5One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’ 7The sick man answered him, ‘Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.’ 8Jesus said to him, ‘Stand up, take your mat and walk.’ 9At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk.
The stirring of the pool refers to the widely believed legend that an angel would come and stir the waters of the pool and then you had to get into the pool quickly in order to be healed. Hundreds of people must have been crowded around this pool just waiting in desperation and anticipation. But as the man says, he could not get into the pool as others would step over him…he was stuck for 38 years! People, healthier than he, more able to play the system, more able to ignore others, walked over him.
That swirling, myth of a system wasn’t working. This system convinced this man to believe it would heal him even when Jesus asks him if he wanted to be made well. But the Bethsaida pool system does not work for him. This system creates desperation because it only works for a few. And Jesus sees this. Jesus sees that there needs to be another option. He sees through the false hope to the death by stagnation that haunts the whole crowd.
In the same way, Jesus sees that the illusion that the United States’ healthcare system or economic system or housing system is sufficient is just that…an illusion and a lie. These systems have almost mythic power over us based on our desire that they work, but under that is a desperation that there is no alternative. The government is not going to rescue us.
As our siblings suffer with this new coronavirus, as they take the fall for rulers and leaders selling mythical solutions, we must seek, fight for, and imagine other options because that is what Christ did.
Christ is found in the other option:
The option that takes imagination.
The option that puts people first not politics or polity.
The option that drains the pools of oppressive systems and economic parasites.
The option that is not about ego or pride.
The option that can withstand victim-blaming .
But has the other option been thrown away or is it too late for it? If that is the case, then we are in times of deep uncertainty so we must do what we can…Below is a list of ways to prevent the COVID-19 from spreading:
The Presbyterian Church USA has compiled a list of resources for congregations and individuals about the new coronavirus. Click here for the list of those resources.
Lee Catoe is the managing editor of Unbound and the Associate for Young Adult Social Witness for the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.