There is nothing subtle about what has happened over the past two months. Anxiety gripped the world, toilet paper flew off the shelves, hospital ERs and ICUs overflowed and entire national economies ground to a standstill. There is another story, however, hidden behind the near-apocalyptic events of the last several weeks as the novel coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the globe. Italians sang to one another from their balconies, Americans cheered super-hero healthcare workers as overwhelmed hospitals changed shifts, and at least most of us social distanced for the sake of those at high risk.
Now, many of us in the United States are beginning to think about what it would look like to get “back to normal.” As we do, it will be critical to recognize some of the ways our society has changed over the past seven or eight weeks, especially those ways in which our world should never return to its pre-COVID-19 normal.
The majority of Americans decided to sacrifice for the sake of those who are sick or immunocompromised and otherwise at high risk of infection. We stayed home and avoided our friends and family members. Many of us risked our businesses and livelihoods. Along the way, there have been high-profile demonstrations calling for the economy to reopen regardless of the cost, but the overwhelming majority of Americans have supported stay-at-home and social distancing guidelines.
“There are aspects of our pre-COVID-19 lives that will never quite be the same, and that might not be a bad thing.”
In the closing passage of Matthew 25, Jesus sketches his vision for how the Kingdom of God ought to look. The righteous – those who will inhabit this kingdom society – are those who feed the hungry, welcome strangers and respond to the needs of the disenfranchised and marginalized. Whether most people realize it or not, our society has taken this admonition seriously for at least a time. In one way or another, we responded to Jesus’ contention that we are only as great as the least among us.
As collectively we begin the arduous process of recovery, we must not forget the way we feel right now. We must guard against the temptation to lose sight of this shift in favor of the least of these. As life slowly begins to normalize, we must continue to find new ways to welcome the stranger and protect the least and the lowest. The gospel has always called us to recognize the plight of those around us – to see more clearly those who have been marginalized and to welcome them enthusiastically into our communities and churches.
At this moment in history, we have a unique opportunity to step forward more boldly into that kingdom vision.
For the first time in most of our lifetimes, we face a crisis from which no amount of wealth or influence can protect or insulate us. There is no wall high enough, no gated community secure enough to keep us safe from COVID-19. Like it or not, the only thing that can protect me from becoming its next victim is the participation of everyone around me in adhering to social distancing guidelines. In a span of two months, this virus has eviscerated the American myth of individual responsibility and revealed how dependent we truly are on one another.
Finding our society’s “new normal” is not going to be a quick-and-easy process. Difficult discussions and hard decisions are still before us in the coming months, perhaps years. Regardless of how our normalization process plays out, one thing is certain. There are aspects of our pre-COVID-19 lives that will never quite be the same, and that might not be a bad thing.
Let’s not lose sight of the progress we’ve made and the opportunities for growth that still lie ahead. Let’s not forget the way we feel right now.
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