During the first month of the spread of the coronavirus in the United States, most of the human-interest stories in the news were about the challenges facing frontline workers and the recently unemployed. More recently, however, the focus of human-interest stories seems to be shifting back toward the societal norm, that is, complaining.
Last weekend, I noticed a preponderance of stories by and about people whose response to global human suffering is to complain that the pandemic is grossly unfair to them, personally. It seems that the millions of infected people and the hundreds of thousands of dead have been so insensitive as to interfere with therapeutic shopping, gossip circles, excessive consumption, and furtive liaisons. What a tragedy.
I find myself somewhat conflicted about these complaints. On the one hand, those who choose to complain about unavoidable disruptions in life are little more than spoiled children. On the other hand, those who place their trust in an impermanent world are destined for disappointment. It’s a pitiable situation from any point of view. To interpret a global health crisis as being “all about me” or to place one’s ultimate trust in a finite universe is to experience the unquenchable thirst of King Tantalus who was chained in standing water that receded from him whenever he bent down to drink.
The complaints, the fear, and the frustration resulting from the pandemic and its restrictions on our liberties are the result of looking to created things for salvation. The futility of this choice is obvious to anyone who examines it rationally; unfortunately, our species rarely uses its capacity for reason. Most often, secular society teaches people to trust what is not completely trustworthy and religion teaches people to denigrate what is not completely trustworthy. The Scriptures proclaim a radically different message.
The author of today’s second reading says that the baptized are “chosen and precious in the sight of God.” (1 Pt. 2:4) There is quite a lot of truth revealed in these few words. The baptized, and the world in which they live, are “precious in the sight of God.” God loves and cherishes the world and its occupants. One must acknowledge, then, there is much good in the world and little reason to denigrate it. The author of the Letter also describes the baptized as “chosen.” That is to say that God saw creation’s need for redemption and chose freely to provide the justification that the world could not provide for itself.
The author of the Letter goes on to say that the baptized, are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pt. 2:9) The baptized are a priesthood whose vocation it is to serve God as God deserves and to cooperate in God’s plan of salvation for the world.
The perspective offered by the Scriptures is that neither are we to place our ultimate trust in creation nor to denigrate the value of creation. The Scriptures say that it is necessary both to look beyond created things for salvation and to contribute to the salvation of the created world.
The First Letter of Peter describes appropriate behavior for Jesus’ disciples when facing tragedy. The scale of the tragedy is immaterial; whether one faces personal sorrow or a global pandemic, the appropriate response is to focus one’s hope on God’s promises and to work for the sanctification of the whole world.
The pitiable truth about those who disregard the respective values of faith and created things is that they deny solace and strength both to themselves and others.
The saving truth revealed in the Scriptures is that the baptized are chosen by God to participate in God’s plan for redemption, both for their own benefit and the benefit of all God’s creatures.