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Life Arts    H1'ed 5/3/20

Return to Normality Should Be the Last Thing We Want

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Arundhati Roy .The Pandemic is a Portal. Arundhati Roy reads from her new essay .The Pandemic is a Portal,. from her forthcoming book Azadi: Freedom. Fascism. Fiction. releasing in September from ...
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Readings for 4th Sunday of Easter: ACTS 2:14A, 36-41; PSALM 23: 1-6; 1 PETER 2: 20B-25; JOHN 10: 1-10

This week's readings for the Fourth Sunday of Easter contain an important message for us in this time of Coronavirus. They ask us to repent -- to persist in our recently imposed collective abandonment of the world's values around profit, pleasure, power and prestige -- the ones that are destroying our planet and that were rejected by the great prophet from Nazareth.

Given our immediate context, the readings' implied message is: Don't simply pick up where you left off. Instead embrace the new life that Mother Nature has so recently imposed. When the smoke clears, don't go back to normal.

That's the highly political theme of today's readings. They focus on the image of "Life Itself as our guiding Shepherd," and Jesus as the gate to the sheepfold protecting those within from destructive "strangers." In biblical symbolism, such references are loaded with political meaning. Since the time of King David, Judah's kings had always been referred to as shepherds.

So, when today's familiar responsorial says, "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want." It's laying out a list of imperatives for kings like David. As God's administrators, they are to make sure people have food and drink, shelter, leisure, and a clean and verdant environment.

And when John the evangelist has Jesus refer to himself as the sheepfold's gatekeeper, John is calling attention to Jesus' Way as leading from one reality (the world) to another, the fold he called the Kingdom of God. There, everything will be reversed. The first will be last; the last, first. The rich will be humiliated and the poor have the earth for their possession.

Unbelievably, the coronavirus has shed a bright light both on the corruption of what we've come to consider "normal," and on what Arundhati Roy calls the "portal" and Jesus calls "the gate" leading to a revolutionary reality with kingdom overtones.

The Old Normality

To begin with, consider the old normal, specifically here in the United States.

Like the USSR in 1989, the USA has collapsed before our eyes in a matter of weeks. Yes, it's already a fait accompli. And no one knows what to do about it.

The country's economy has drawn to an absolute standstill. And it's not going to return to normal any time soon. Unemployment is projected to exceed Great Depression proportions. People already routinely line up for blocks-long breadlines.

Moreover, the predominantly capitalist nature of America's mixed economy has switched overnight to a predominantly socialist one. Instead of being allowed to perish (as capitalist theory would demand) the country's largest enterprises have proven to require repeated bailouts from the central government. It happened with the Dot Com Burst of 2000, with the Great Recession in 2008, and now with the COVID-19 Crash of 2020. The system is completely unstable, and its survival requires those periodic infusions totaling trillions of dollars each time. Meanwhile millions go hungry and are left unemployed and wondering where their next meal might come from.

The bailout response is called "socialism." And in a matter of weeks, it's happened in what we brag about as "the richest in the world."

At the same time, the central government pledged by its Constitution to protect its citizens claims no responsibility to do so. It has left that obligation to local governments and to mutual aid organizations.

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program. His latest book is (more...)
 

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