I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world
you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!
-Jesus (John 16:33)
I want to borrow a word that the good Dr. Anthony Fauci, now-famous director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases and national truth-teller, has used frequently of late. I voice it a bit myself and do so in this meditation. I was traversing the Riverside/Avondale neighborhood on a walk a few days ago. Now, I’ve been walking/running/biking around the area since last September, so I have some empirical data with which to work. A few days ago, the number of people who were out an about astounded me. I realize that my observations are anecdotal and not scientifically-verifiable, but I sensed something wonderful: people of all ages, lots of them—moving, interacting (mostly at appropriate distances), greeting me and each other with a spirit of we’ve got this in their voices and postures. I also know that it was early evening and most likely everyone had their fill of staring at screens for the day (or the week, or the month) already. We’re still pretty early in this everyone-home-all-day experiment. Still, my walks and runs are usually witnessed by a handful of others, so the appearance of many spectators, co-exercisers, and outdoors-enjoyers buoyed my steps. My anecdotal evidence convinced me that the spirit on the streets was upbeat.
At the end of a long session of teaching, Jesus directs the words above to his disciples, telling them what was about to happen to him. Life would get worse before it got better. But take courage; I have conquered the world! Note that he didn’t say don’t worry. Rather, take courage. Plenty of stuff exists in the world to cause humans to worry, appropriately, I might add. Jesus tells his followers not to worry in the Sermon on the Mount, but it’s not so much that they shouldn’t ever fret. Rather, that we should not let it engulf us and overwhelm our lives. Back to John 16. Very soon, a mob would appear and rip their rabbi away from them. They would scurry like worried rats to their own dark corners of existence. Jesus doesn’t say this to wag his finger in foreknowledge, but rather to give them a weapon in their anti-worry arsenal when it attacks. Remember, Jesus says, whatever rotten thing gets pitched at your head, it will not defeat you. Even when I am behind Pilate’s closed doors, my spirit will be with you…and yours with me. So let courage pin worry to the mat. In me, you have overcome the world.
I intend to keep walking and running around town, properly distanced from others, of course. I will be praying (as I always do when I am out) that the overcoming Spirit of Jesus will be the driving force as our separations and our enforced co-existence continue. We disciples of Jesus have a gift to share with our neighbors. Not false piety or groundless optimism. Not the feeling that we are invincible and need not follow Dr. Fauci’s wise advice. But the assurance that the Conqueror of the ways of the world is our Savior. We live daily, dealing hopefully (mostly) with our fears, knowing that we’ve got this! That’s not anecdotal data but Jesus’ assuring word.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you faced adversity with confidence and courage, showing us the way. Give us faith to follow your lead. Continue to bless all those who are ill or are on the front lines in battling this present scourge, that they and we all may know your love, grace, and healing mercy in our daily lives. Amen.