In recent days we have seen large numbers of people contracting the more virulent strain of the Covid virus in NSW, and that has raised alarm bells for us in Victoria, especially when a removal crew from Sydney have brought the virus to Melbourne, and people are wondering when the next lockdown here will be announced. In Victoria we have endured lockdowns because we know that if we want to live relatively normal lives, that’s the only way to deal with the virus until everyone has been vaccinated.
We know it works because we have experienced it, so it’s understandable that people get angry with those in politics and business who fail to learn from our experience, because lives are unnecessarily put at risk.
So much of our society has swallowed the idea that we are free agents able to do what we like when we like. We are encouraged to indulge ourselves, to put our interests first before others, to see our freedoms as a ‘right’ to claim, rather than a gift to enjoy and a responsibility to guard. In ministry we are encouraged to attend to self-care, to make sure that we don’t burn-out, and that’s a positive corrective to former times when little or no attention was given to that.
However, if there is one thing this virus teaches us, it is that we are all in some way connected with each other and our behaviour has an impact on others. The book of Genesis tells us that we are made in the image and likeness of God. The Bible speaks of God’s compassion and mercy, of God’s desire to reconcile the human race so that we may live together in peace and at harmony with creation. If that is so, the image of God within us is given expression when we are compassionate, just and kind – when we work together to reconcile and heal. However, the stories of Genesis also show how we often abuse the freedoms we are given and frequently fail to take responsibility for our own actions.
Freedom is a gift to be used and enjoyed responsibly.
Our Gospel reading this week gives us an insight into the way Jesus approached freedom and responsibility. It comes immediately after the disciples return from their mission, and after Jesus has heard about the execution of John the Baptist. His first response is to take his disciples away for a well-earned rest, time for self-care, and also to deal with his own sense of loss and grief. Jesus chooses to care for his disciples and to attend to his own grief. It’s important to note how often in the gospels we find Jesus seeking out time to be alone with God, and so encouraging us to do the same. However, when they arrive at their place of solitude Jesus finds himself swamped by the desperate need of many for healing. What does Jesus do? Mark tells us that he saw the crowd and had compassion for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. He didn’t respond with the attitude, ‘I ought to do something about this, it’s my duty!’ On the contrary he responds, ‘This is what I am called to do and to be for this crowd!’ He responds not out of a sense of duty that would become a burden, but a sense of call that enlivens him.
Caring for one another can be quite demanding, and we do need to be careful to look after ourselves at the same time. At the last Supper Jesus scandalised his disciples by doing the menial task of washing their feet, and so showing them that his way, his truth, his life, engages us in a life of service to one another where we respond to the freedom we are given by attending to the image of God in each other. When we see this as a call from God and not a burden forced upon us it changes everything. The hymn ‘Love is his word, love is his way’…(TIS 534) underscores this.
All Christian action – whether it is visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, or working for a more just and peaceful society – is a manifestation of the human solidarity revealed to us in the house of God. It is not an anxious human effort to create a better world. It is a confident expression of the truth that in Christ, death, evil, and destruction have been overcome. It is not a fearful attempt to restore a broken order. It is a joyful assertion that in Christ all order has already been restored. It is not a nervous effort to bring divided people together, but a celebration of an already established unity. This action is not activism. An activist wants to heal, restore, redeem, and re-create, but those acting within the house of God point through their action to the healing, restoring, redeeming, and re-creating presence of God.