I opened the year, reflecting on 20/20 vision. My focus was on allowing God’s light to shine through physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual goals for 2020 and well into the next decade. Three months later, the coronavirus became a pandemic and ill omen for the foreseeable future. The global focus shifted from visionary goal-setting to the collective health and well-being of our bodies, minds, and souls.
In my prayer time, I considered whether I was viewing life through yet another convenient, popular cliche and catchphrase. Advertisers had seized the moment and used Vision 2020 on billboards and in commercials to capture the interest and pockets of consumers. Was what I heard in moments of prayer and reflection, not a divine revelation for practical manifestation?
My 20/20 reflection on the determinants of sight that contribute to vision clarity is just as relevant now. Peripheral awareness helps us to see the essential workers on the margins of health care. Eye-hand coordination is needed to wash our hands, to avoid touching our face, and to wipe down surfaces. Depth perception allows us to keep a safe distance of 6 feet when out in public. Focusing ability helps balance social distancing, sheltering in place, working from home, caring for loved ones, and homeschooling children. Color vision reveals the disproportionate impact the coronavirus has on people of color.
I’ve learned that a virus is non-living. It can only exist and multiply within living host cells. The red wreaths pictured in some of the 3-D images of the coronavirus are called “corona.” These red wreath corona proteins attack healthy human cells, spread the viral infection throughout the body, and cause respiratory illness. The latest version of the coronavirus goes by many names. Popular culture has deemed it “that Rona.” Scientists refer to it as SARS-Cov-2. COVID-19 is the disease it causes. COVID-19 is an acronym: CO (corona) VI (virus) D (disease) 19 (2019).
In March, I saw the acronym Clarity of Vision Impacts Destiny see John 19 (COVID-19) as clearly as it appeared to me to reflect on Vision 20/20. The 19th chapter of John’s Gospel opens with Jesus under attack. The motley crew of Roman soldiers, officers, and temple police had arrested Jesus on trumped-up charges. After an extensive period of cross-examination, Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, found no justification for punishing Jesus. But, each time Pilate offered to release Jesus, the crowd’s chant to “Crucify him” spread like a viral infection.
With no vaccine to regulate the contagion, Pilate eventually complies and releases Jesus to the soldiers to have him viciously beaten, scourged, and crucified. The Roman soldiers, officers, and temple police demonstrated a total and complete disregard for Jesus’ body, mind, and soul. This disregard for humanity by people in power has persisted from the 1st to the 21st century. The abuse of power and belief that one race is superior to another are symptoms of a virus. We have borne witness to the viral dehumanization of Black bodies for 400 years and, most recently, in the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.
Symptoms, though, are not the disease. They are signs and manifestations of the condition’s presence. The disease is racism, and the virus is sin. Racism, America’s original sin, is just as complex as the latest strand of the coronavirus. Prejudice and discrimination based on one group’s false sense of superior status is just as contagious and spreads just as quickly between symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers. And, similarly with still no curable vaccine in sight.
The term “corona” means garland or wreath in both Latin and Greek, the official languages of the Roman Empire. In ancient Rome, distinguished individuals received coronas in recognition of exceptional service. The Roman soldiers “wove a crown of thorns” to press into the head of the highly acclaimed King of the Jews. From the beginning of John’s Gospel, the message is clear: Jesus’s kingdom is not of this world. This world was the final destination for the fulfillment and culmination of God’s reign of both heaven and earth. With “the glory as of a father’s only son,” Jesus demonstrated the impact of a clear vision on one’s destiny.
Jesus, carrying the cross on his shoulders, knew his destination was neither Golgotha, the place of his crucifixion, nor the garden, the site of his burial. Instead, it was back to his eternal throne, seated at the right hand of God. Through his life and work, Jesus demonstrated how challenges, hardships, and setbacks are stages of the journey en route to his destination. Further, he revealed the depths of his commitment to his goal, the culmination of God’s kingdom through the restoration of all creation.
Clarity of vision helps us to see God. In the NT, the concept of destiny speaks to an order of operations determined by God’s intent to put things in order. Destiny is God’s appointed decree of what is and what is to come. In God, our destination is not a place. Instead, it is a state of being in a relationship with God, our selves, and our neighbors. Surviving and even thriving through the challenges, hardships, and setbacks of COVID-19, police brutality, and systemic racism will require a focus on God, self, and neighbor.
In the middle of John 19, the focus turns to the crucifixion of Jesus. The placard on Jesus’ cross read “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. The inscription on George Floyd’s memorial is in two phrases, “Say Our Names” and “I Can Breathe Now.” The muralist reminds us of those who met a similar fate while transforming a common refrain and plea for help.
Among George Floyd’s final recorded words was a declaration, a plea for help: “I can’t breathe.” Floyd’s lament echoed the voice of Eric Garner, who made the same plea, “I can’t breathe,” while in a police officer’s chokehold. Among Jesus’s final words in John 19, we hear a vision for a vaccine. Love your neighbor: “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother” (John 19.27). Love your self: “I am thirsty” (John 19.28). Love your God: “It is finished” (John 19.20).
This love-ethic is at the heart of Jesus’s message and teachings to his disciples: “I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13.33-35).
Howard Thurman wrote of “destiny dealing decisions” in describing how life presents us with opportunities to decide on a course of action without complete knowledge of the facts nor of the impact of our decisions. In reflecting on the effect of Jesus’s destiny, Thurman wrote: “it has taken more than a thousand years to determine whether the death of the Son of Man on a cross outside the city wall was a mistake. It was madness, but with that madness, Jesus discovered a new world.”
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus, the one brandished with a crown of thorns, crucified, and buried, is the Christ. This same Jesus is the resurrected Savior, and God of the oppressed now wearing an eternal crown and robed with “salvation and glory and power” (Revelations 19.1). As the late theologian, James Cone wrote, “the gospel of Jesus is not a rational concept to be explained in a theory of salvation, but a story about God’s presence in Jesus’s solidarity with the oppressed, which led to his death on the cross. What is redemptive is the faith that God snatches victory out of defeat, life out of death, and hope out of despair.”
Clarity of vision will get us to the other side of COVID-19 and this stage of police brutality and social unrest with a renewed sense of humanity’s connectedness. Christ-followers and God-fearers of every nation, creed, tongue, ethnicity, and race carry the burden of reconciliation. To engage in this ministry is to bear the cross of protesting, sitting, standing, and marching in solidarity with the oppressed. In Jesus, the God of the oppressed had a clear and decisive impact on humanity’s understanding of its individual and collective identity, purpose, and destiny.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain undeniable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is included in The Declaration of Independence (US 1776.)”
The truth is the world got it wrong. Something that God quickly began to teach me as I attempted to watch the well-known movie The Pursuit of Happiness. As we embark on what is easily the most hostile election year to date, it is evident we need to pursue what Jesus instructed from the first day of his ministry. We need to pursue the Kingdom of God.
As Christians, too often we associate ourselves and our circumstances with the pursuit of things that make us happy or feel good. This takes us away from the purpose of God in our lives. Happiness by definition comes from the root word, hap – which means luck, chance, or fortune. This sets the way to create an idol in our lives, one that causes us to focus on the pleasures of life and the circumstances that surround them. Take note this is something God clearly speaks about in Isaiah 65:8-12. This is even true when it comes to the election and voting for a person who makes you feel good, or even secure and happy, not necessarily what lines up with the will of God.
Does that mean that God’s will is for us to never be happy? By no means. Quite the opposite in fact. God wants us to be happy. Jesus preaches it very much so in Matt 5:3-12 commonly known as the beatitudes. Take note, however, this sermon is preached as characteristics for those who have entered into the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:17). ‘Blessed’ in Greek means happy and in Aramaic means prosperous. What does that mean for us? It means that in order to be really happy (blessed), we need to pursue God and His Kingdom. Deeper than that, seeking God, staying in His will, produces joy, and that is something that is not dependent on circumstances, it is indwelling and solely dependent upon God.