One of the challenges about Coronavirus is the issue of authority, with the national and devolved governments having sometimes differing approaches to the handling of the pandemic. People living in Wales and working in England – and vice versa – have had different restrictions imposed at times and some confusion has resulted. National and local variations mean that those in authority have been subject to much criticism at times and it’s right that scrutiny and accountability are applied – but this virus and the pandemic is a situation new to us all, whether or not we hold authority or responsibility during it. The impact has been profound and as Cardiff, Swansea and Llanelli go into local lockdowns tonight, almost half the people in Wales, as well as others in various places throughout the UK, will be subject to this loss of liberty, necessary because some have not used that liberty wisely.
The impact on individuals, communities, nations and the economy is clear as Covid-19 continues to take its toll in ways both anticipated and unexpected. It seems that even the death of Sergeant Matt Ratana at Croydon Police Station may be a consequence of it as awareness of governmental guidance to keep a distance may have meant that the suspect had not initially been very closely checked while an arrest was being made. As enquiries and statements continue, there is much to consider – for us all.
Jesus faces an attack on his authority in the Gospel reading for today, the sixteenth Sunday after Trinity. Having driven out the money changers in the Temple and then healed those who came to him, the chief priests and elders try to trick him with a question about authority but Jesus answers with a clever response about John the Baptist – instead of talking about himself, he probes his questioners and catches them out. He also tells them a story about two brothers and the exercise of their responsibility in carrying out their father’s instructions – one refuses and then changes his mind, the other agrees but doesn’t do so. We may face the same choice in the months ahead as we are asked to follow the restrictions imposed by those in authority over us and to show responsibility for others as well as ourselves. Will that happen and what will be the consequences if we do or don’t? Who is in control in our lives and on what authority do we base our decisions as hard choices are faced?
This leaves us with much to ponder as we consider our individual and collective responsibility when we are told that we must share it and learn to live with it without fear. How can that be done in the face of such criticism and change, with anxiety as well as care being shown at a time when such mixed emotions and responsibilities are being experienced by so many?
Perhaps the example of Jesus when under attack by people in authority in his day will give some guidance. He faces the situation head on and engages in a debate with them about authority, but also asks a question of those who challenge him – did any of them later change their minds, like the two sons in the story? It’s clear from what he says that Jesus is acting on God’s authority and each of us must decide for ourselves whether or not we want that to be a part of our daily lives today. But if you were questioned, like Jesus, about your own authority to do and be who you are today, what one question would you ask of those who challenge you?
With my prayers,
Christine, priest Guardian of St Melangell’s Shrine Church.