by Marie Dennis
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
“As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth. … He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him ‘Go wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (which means sent). So he went and washed and came back able to see.” ~John 9:1, 6-7
The context is overwhelming for our reflection this week. The coronavirus has upended communities around the world, threatening livelihoods and lives, forcing a previously unthinkable change in daily routines, helping everyone to recognize the fragility of life and the deep injustice that leaves too many people, communities and countries vastly more vulnerable than others. At the same time, the impact of the pandemic is being universally felt as it crosses political, geographic, economic, social and cultural boundaries, powerfully illustrating the reality of global interdependence and calling into question our basic assumptions about security and the politics of fear and division.
The readings for this fourth Sunday of Lent are rich and complex, but John’s Gospel about the man blind from birth who was cured — given voice and agency — by Jesus seems to speak most clearly to the situation we are facing. Perhaps this pandemic will help us to see with new eyes the critical need for a transformative shift in our values and priorities. Some reasons that such a shift is urgent are clearly visible. We can see already, for example:
- that those who are living on the margins — in the U.S., in countries too poor to provide adequate protection, or “on the way” in migrant streams — are the most vulnerable to the pandemic’s ravages. The violences of economic injustice and ecological devastation are intensified by this global crisis. National and international priorities must be shaped by and meet the needs of the most vulnerable communities.
- that the experience of radical social-distancing has helped us to recognize the centrality of relationships in our lives and the importance of community. Our society holds rugged individualism as a high value, yet, as the coronavirus isolates us, we are building safe bridges, many of them virtual, to care for each other and those most at risk.
- that spending hundreds of billions of dollars annually on weapons and preparations for war has not given us the tools to address a global pandemic. In fact, military spending steals resources from providing for healthy, resilient communities across the country and around the world that can slow the spread of disease and more quickly recover from serious threats like the COVID-19 pandemic.
- that the coronavirus does not respect political borders, physical barriers or cultural differences. Responding effectively to transnational threats requires respectful global cooperation to promote the well-being of the whole earth community rather than xenophobia and nationalism.
This Tuesday, March 24th, is the 40th anniversary of the assassination in El Salvador of Saint Oscar Romero, who is often quoted as saying, “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”
The whole world is weeping as we come to terms with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, especially for those who were already marginalized, made vulnerable by war and forced displacement, poverty and environmental disruption. May our eyes be opened by the tears we are shedding to discover a nonviolent route to a transformed, peaceful and sustainable national and global reality.