The disruptive and deadly COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance and need for resilient communities. The negative health and economic impact caused by this novel virus has indiscriminately touched local communities as well as the broader global community. BWC has asked individuals across sectors and practices to share their thoughts and insights regarding how we can build and support stronger and more resilient communities. Our work at BWC is guided by a commitment to expanding access to opportunity infrastructure, particularly to distressed and underserved communities, in which infrastructure is about more than steel and concrete, but people as well.
This commentary contribution is by Pastor Darryl Aaron of Providence Baptist Church in Greensboro, NC.
In her latest novel, Ninth Hour, Alice McDermott highlights how the Church handles desperate times. The plot centers around nuns going the extra mile to help persons pushed to the margins of life and left to fend for themselves in a harsh and brutal world. In the novel, the “ninth hour”represents the time of day to pray; however, for many Christians the ninth houris also the moment when it is inevitable that Jesus will die on the cross. The Church is always experiencing a ninth hour, moments when facts must be faced with faith. This pandemic is a powerful moment for the Church to be at her best and show the world how to look facts in the face without flinching.
It is the ninth hour, and the facts are undeniable. People are out of work, some are dying while others are stressed to the maximum and the Church doors are closed. And yet, this is not the first time the Church has acknowledged overwhelming facts. There is an instructive biblical story that showcases the Church working against insurmountable odds as we confront and contain the coronavirus. The setting is near Bethsaida according to Luke’s gospel where nearly five thousand have followed Jesus from the towns. The journey has been long and everyone is very hungry. When His disciples urge Jesus to send the crowds away because there are no places to buy food and the sun is going down, Jesus rejects their facts. In this ninth hour, this moment of challenge, it is not acceptable to push the people away. Rather this is a moment to organize and display compassion. We hear Jesus instructing the disciples to seat the people in groups of fifty and gather the items that are present.
Compassion removes barriers that would prevent creativity and innovation. Organization carves out choices that can be made with a challenge. Where there is compassion there will be resourcefulness and where there is organization there will be problem solving. In this biblical scene, the disciples report that there are merely two fish and five loaves. While some would count those items and provide an analysis of scarcity, when compassion is demonstrated the evaluation reveals that if these two fish and five loaves are broken and blessed, then something good can come out of this challenging situation. The Church has never been able to cry about scarcity because its ultimate belief is God is a God of abundance. The scarcity posture is sinful because it denies God’s ability to do all things. This is not a pie in the sky or a prosperity gospel, rather it is a gospel of faith that confronts all situations with the belief that God calls creation to participate in the plan of redemption.
Barbara Brown Taylor, a gifted preacher and interpreter of the Bible has purported that the real miracle in the story was when persons began to share what they had. In other words, when the people in the front of the line began to eat the broken and blessed food others in the back row recognized that what was offered may not reach them. It was this recognition that triggered persons to reach into their secret stashes and begin to share. I believe – not unlike like my mother – that there were those who had stored a few greasy chicken legs in brown paper bags while traveling. One by one people began to share and, behold, five thousand were fed with leftovers.
We cannot overestimate the power of recognition. Miracles take place when people recognize the choices that can be made during challenging moments. In moments of challenge, ninth hours, enlightenment or, as the Church calls it, revelation is an uncanny means that gives strength to endure tough times and insight to see beyond the current predicament. Without a doubt, we are facing a ninth hour and the Church and nation must be compassionate with one another. Moreover, as we walk through the valley of the coronavirus, we must trust in the instruments that God gives to all that can be used as they participate in the plan of redemption. Lastly, there is a pleasant place on the other side of the pandemic where wisdom will teach us that ninth hours come and go and believers become witnesses to the power of compassion, organization, and revelation.