What can we do with our faith amid this Coronavirus crisis? Is our faith able to make this turbulent situation any better? Is our faith able to boost our immune system and protect us from the virus? Here’s a more fundamental question. Does our faith even matter in this chaos? Yes? Then, how? In what way? Faithful friends in Christ, I think, now is the time we should clearly answer these questions.
The rapidly evolving spread of Coronavirus becomes the greatest threat to our lives. Day after day, the number of confirmed cases continues to climb across the States. Last Friday, a national emergency was declared. Schools are sending their students back home and starting online classes. Public offices are closed. In the meantime, racism rears its ugly head and some people fall prey to discrimination and assaults. And much faster than the spread of virus, selfishness is infecting us like wildfire, and we are helplessly exposed to overwhelming fears—fear of uncertainty and fear of the other.
If we take a close look at this situation, we find, this crisis is exceptionally serious not just because Coronavirus itself is life-threatening and even fatal to the vulnerable, but also because this crisis causes us to be unnecessarily anxious. And excessive anxiety invokes our primal instinct for survival and grows the urge, the thirst, for our unsatisfied basic needs amid the crisis—need for safety, for health, for care, for well-being. Maybe, this is a very natural and common human reaction to a crisis like this.
Both the Hebrew Bible and Gospel stories for today show us two different cases of crisis. In the Exodus story, we see the people of Israel facing a deadly calamity. After they escaped from the slavery in Egypt, they are on their journey to the promised land. This journey has been great overall except the fact that they need to travel through the wilderness. One day, people can’t find water to drink. So they do what they are good at. They make complaints to Moses, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:3;7) Overwhelmed by growing anxiety and thirst, they already lost their faith. They lost the joy of liberation and forgot the mighty works and wonders of God that saved them.
In today’s Gospel story, we see the Samaritan woman. She’s one anxious and thirsty soul. One of the main causes of her issue is her ethnic background. In Jesus’ time, there was a clear separation between the Samaritans and the Jews. Technically, both of them were Abraham’s offspring. But the Samaritans inter-married non-Jews, so their bloodline got mixed up. So, the Jews denounced them as half-breeds and didn’t want to interact with them. See how the Samaritan woman replies when Jesus asks for a drink: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)” (John 4:9) Yes, she’s not very proud of herself being a Samaritan. She thirsts for some dignity.
Moreover, she has a much graver cause of anxiety. It’s from her personal history. When Jesus says to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back,” the woman answers him, “I have no husband.” Then, Jesus says, “You are right in saying, I have no husband; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” (John 4:16-18) We don’t know her entire life story but one thing is clear. She went through a lot in her marital relationships, and she has lived a shifting and twisting life of unrest. Was this record okay by people in the days of Jesus? No doubt, it must be something she always wanted to hide away but always followed after her. In this anxious Samaritan woman’s heart, there grow deep thirst—thirst for some self-esteem, for a true relationship.
Although these two cases of crisis look different from the other, from the stories, we find, God’s solution is the same. For the people of Israel, God satisfies their need by giving them water through Moses. The purpose is to teach them how to remain faithful in times of crisis, how to remain joyful and hopeful for the promised land on their wilderness journey. True, God’s solution to their crisis is faith. For the Samaritan woman, God sends Jesus. And Jesus opens her heart and opens her eyes so she can have faith in him and find new life in him. It’s the same. The solution to her crisis is also faith.
Of course, faith is not a magic wand. So it couldn’t rewrite the Samaritan woman’s past history; it couldn’t completely wipe away her disgrace or instantly satisfy all of her thirst. But faith must have enabled her to live a new life in Christ. How am I so sure? It’s because I believe, faith has a power to awaken all of us to see ourselves always worthy and beloved no matter what; faith has a power to fill our hearts with the joy of salvation and relieve us from anxiety and thirst; faith has a power to give us enduring hope for the future in Christ.
Faithful friends in Christ, I asked in the beginning, what can we do with our faith in the midst of this Coronavirus crisis? How does faith matter in these anxious and thirsty days? For sure, our faith is not a vaccine for the virus. But I can testify with confidence that our faith is the God-given solution in any crisis of our lives. It’s because, faith is the doorway to a new life. Through faith, we live a new life with deep awareness of the unchanging truth that God loves us and God is with us always. Through faith, we live a new life with joy and hope, not with anxiety and thirst even in the middle of a crisis.
The Apostle Paul tells us today, we can even boast our faith “in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). Yes, God’s steadfast love is in our hearts through the Holy Spirit here and now…so, we still have a reason to remain hopeful for the future, a reason to find meaning and purpose even in our suffering, a reason to walk our journey of Lent through the wilderness with Jesus Christ our Lord.
Faithful friends in Christ, let us have faith in Jesus and continue to live a new life in him. This is our way to go on whether circumstances are favorable or unfavorable. From today, let’s not allow any anxiety and thirst overwhelm us. Let no worries and complaints fill our hearts. But through our prayers and meditations, let only the love and grace of God flow from within our hearts to others. In our care and sacrifice for the vulnerable, let the joy and thanksgiving anoint us afresh. And in our daily words and deeds, let the everlasting hope for Easter, for the resurrection and victory of Jesus, renew the resilient and generous spirits in us and in many people around us. In the face of the crisis, let us keep the faith and live a new life in Christ.
Pastor Earl Kim