Interestingly the catchphrase we have heard throughout the COVID 19 public awareness campaign is the same as the slogan for National Reconciliation Week – ‘We are in this together.”
I wonder how many actually believe this is the case in both contexts, that we are actually one with each working with equity and equality to care for and advance the needs of the other? Do we actually believe we are in this together in the sense that we in are lockstep with one another, that the impact is shared with equity across our population and no-one is harmed more than another? Do we actually believe this is the case? Or is it a smokescreen for privilege and entitlement?
On various Victorian government and local Government websites you will find the following statement:
“Who is considered at risk?
All individuals over 70 years old, 60 with a pre-existing medical condition, and Indigenous people over 50 years are advised to stay home as much as possible, as they fall within the highest risk category for contracting coronavirus.”
This alone explodes the myth of being in this together. I am seen as being equal to someone 20 years my elder. Perhaps we are not in this together!
Policies such as Jobseeker and Jobkeeper are fine for those of us eligible, many are left out and many will not have their jobs and their way of life maintained after this. The long-term impact will be felt severely by those who are less able to weather such storms in their lives. For those of us in the leafy eastern suburbs of Melbourne we can say we are in this together from our place of privilege while others know the harsh reality of difference.
John, the Jewish mystic provides a path for us to follow in the gospel reading of today. And it all hinges on a basic Jewish mystical concept – that God was and is a permeating presence, not an external being. John Spong suggests in his book on John, “Tales of a Jewish Mystic”, God was that life-giving power that embraces all those who are willing to accept the vulnerability that love always brings. For John, Jesus was not one who had come and then departed and who would someday come again. Jesus was rather a God presence inviting all to enter who he was and is, to be born of the Spirit and to participate in the eternity of God.
We are invited to participate in the vulnerability of humanity, not from our place of impregnable privilege but by standing shoulder to shoulder with it. This is not something we put off or hold onto as a remote possibility when all in the world begin to understand what I know. We are not waiting for Jesus to return for a new world to begin. It begins now and we are its beginning.
This vulnerability of love Spong speaks of is the kin-dom of God alive and active within us. When it is alive and active within us it becomes the will of God. What is this will of God? According to Mahatma Gandhi, it is “intelligent action in a detached manner”. Thomas Merton comments on Gandhi: God wills that we act humanly, therefore intelligently.
God wills that we act for God’s sake, for love of the truth, not out of concern for immediate material interest: therefore God wills that we act in a ‘detached manner’. Detachment is not pure indifference, but only concentration of attention on the act itself, not on the results or the consequences.”
These are dangerous ideas, to embrace them will discombobulate our complacency and ignorance. Equity will require intelligent but detached action. Reconciliation will require intelligent but detached action.
What does this mean?
It means that we are to do what is the right and intelligent thing without reference whether this action is a loss or a gain for me personally. It is not about what I will lose and therefore I am attached to the outcome. It is not what will I gain and therefore I am attached to the outcome.
It is what builds up the body of the whole, society and all that is in it so that there are no winners or losers. It is what ensures that there is no 20- year gap between aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people when it comes to health, education, housing and jobs. It is what ensures that all are cared for through the coronavirus and we only go back to the way it was when all have enough and those who have more make it possible for those who have less to have enough.
This High Priestly prayer of Jesus by the Jewish Mystic John suggests that the Triune Godhead is focussed on advocating for all regardless of their station in life. There is no equivocation in the life and resurrection of Jesus and his ascension into heaven. There are nor classes or categories. There are no-one privileged and entitled and guaranteed a specific place with a view, more than another.
If we are going to institute the kin-dom of God, that universal sense of the kinship of all, then we are required to ensure we all in this together.
This could include:
- A living wage for all, or a universal unconditional safety net ensuring no-one has less than enough;
- A Trinitarian model of business, not an entrepreneurial consumer model;
- All voices are spoken and heard equitably, without one set of voices being preferenced over another;
- A kin-dom or custodial ethic, not a kingdom or power-driven ruling class model;
- A kin-dom model that includes all creation as our kin, leading to a serious attempt to engage the issues around climate change;
- A kin-dom model that recognises the first people’s of this nation as the sovereign custodians with a voice on all matters concerning the flourishing of life here.
This world (not to be confused for the flesh) and all in it matters. How do we know that? Because the Godhead so valued this world Jesus came and lived intelligently and acted with detachment, so no-one was excluded.
We are to do the same.