Blessed are you who are vaccinated
Based on Luke 6:17-26
On Monday I drove to Ngāmotu New Plymouth to deal with some whānau matters, primarily scattering my late brother’s ashes. And I had just passed Sanson when I saw an extraordinary sight.
I saw a man on a motorcycle, with a small flagpole somehow attached to the back of his bike. He was flying a large New Zealand Ensign, and he was riding into a strong headwind. Despite knowing what he was up to, I almost felt sorry for him for about two seconds.
As I continued on my way, I passed more vehicles displaying various nationalistic and other insignia, but I saw the bulk of them pass by in Hawera, where I stopped for lunch. I saw several small groups of locals out in support. A car sporting a Confederate flag and white supremacist slogans was doing circuits. And I was disturbed to see local Māori cheering them on.
They were of course part of the Freedom Convoy that descended on Parliament, ostensibly to protest against vaccine mandates. You may well oppose the mandates yourself. If so, please rest assured it is not my intention today to challenge your views on this subject.
While it appears that the organisers were acting with genuine intentions, this convoy was attempting to replicate a similar event in Canada, which we now understand was instigated by the extremist Q-Anon conspiracy fantasy movement. And it is all but certain that the original organisers of the local convoy have lost control.
Reliable sources indicate that the original organisers instructed the protestors to leave Parliament on Monday. Many did, but some remained, are still camped out there now, and have caused damage to Parliament Grounds that I would estimate will take tens of thousands of dollars to repair. And I believe there is a background of manipulation by overseas political interests, who feel threatened by a liberal democracy being successfully led by a highly capable young woman. But I digress.
I have not been in Wellington for over a week, so I have not seen the shambles outside Parliament for myself. But I have heard some disturbing eye witnesses accounts from friends who have been there. And these include both people who support the vaccine mandates and people who oppose them.
I have heard eye witness accounts of school girls being blocked from getting on public transport and spat on for being a “Jacinda expletive-deleted.”
Death threats being made against journalists and anyone who looked like they might be one.
Anyone wearing a mask being abused.
And some truly disgusting things being said about our prime minister. I cannot help but wonder what their mothers would think if they heard them talking about a woman like this.
I do not have the time to analyse all the complexities of this situation today. But I will say that it demonstrates a clash of two conflicting ways of thinking.
One is the view that we are all in this together and that we should look out for each other. In the context of the current pandemic, this includes getting vaccinated where possible, wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and generally looking out for each other. And understanding the basic common sense that facing minor inconvenience for the common good does not constitute oppression. And these values are reflective of the caring Aotearoa New Zealand I grew up in.
But these values now have competition. Building on the self-centred doctrines of the far right fringes, we now see rampant individualism, selfishness, fear of science, anti-government sentiments, and hatred of the media. And unshaking trust in utterly irrational and mind-blowingly bizarre conspiracy fantasies.
Now I am not suggesting that those currently camped outside Parliament are acting out of selfishness. The appalling behaviours I described earlier aside, most of them genuinely believe in what they are doing and think they are acting for the good of the rest of us. I know this because I actually know some of them, and they include people I cannot remember ever disagreeing with on anything in the past.
But the misinformation those occupying Parliament are acting on certainly is sinister. And all the good intentions in the world do not justify the violence and abuse I referred to earlier.
We have just listened to a reading from a section of the from the Gospel According to St Luke often that is often referred to as the Sermon on the Plain. It has many parallels with the better known text we know as the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel according to St Matthew Both begin with a series of blessings we know as the Beatitudes.
But here is where the similarities end. Mathew contains eight blessings. Whereby Luke contains only four blessings, but these are followed by four woes, which in reality are the flip side of each blessing. “Woe” is an overly dramatic translation; “Alas” or “How dreadful” might be better. It should be seen as an expression of compassion and regret. Not a judgmental threat.
Each blessing and each woe state a condition and a result.
Those who are poor now are blessed, because theirs is the kingdom of God. Whereby those who are now rich have had their reward.
Those who are hungry now are blessed because they will be filled. Whereby those who are now full will be hungry.
Those who now weep are blessed because they will laugh. Whereby those who are now laughing will mourn and weep.
And those who are hated, excluded, and reviled for being followers of Jesus will be rewarded like the prophets who were persecuted before them were, while those who are spoken well of face an unspecified woe.
So what are we to make of all this?
Jesus was living in a time when material wealth and comfort were seen as a sign of God’s blessing. If you were rich, well fed, happy, and had a good reputation, this was seen as being favoured by God. Whereby if you were poor, hungry, sad, or reviled, you had probably done something to deserve it.
And unfortunately, this believe still persists in some expressions of Christianity today. There are churches – although I would call them sects, and dangerous ones at that – who believe that not only is prosperity a sign of God’s blessing, but the way to achieve it is by giving them lots of money, with the promise that you will in turn be blessed by God many times over. But what of course happens in practice is that the leaders of these sects become very wealthy at the expense of their followers, who are more often than not extremely poor.
But Jesus was radical and counter-cultural. He threatened the religious and political powers that be of the day. He suggested the outlandish idea that loving and caring for others should take priority over wealth and power. Not only did he accept and include those that the rest of society rejected, but he also often deemed them to be more worthy than those who rejected them.
He put the needs of the many ahead of the perceived rights of the individual. No wonder the religious and political powers of the day had him killed.
And if we are to be his authentic followers, we need to be as radical and counter cultural as he was and prioritise the values of his kingdom over those of the world.
This is his message in the blessings and woes. Those who are poor, hungry, weeping, or reviled for following his way, are blessed in his kingdom. While those who are motivated by selfish desires now rich, full, laughing, and well-spoken of and think they have it made will have a rude awakening when they realise their priorities were all wrong.
Which brings us back to what has been happening in Wellington. As I said earlier, most of the people who have been protesting outside Parliament are sincere in their beliefs and genuinely believe that they are on the side of good. Not that this excuses any of the appalling behaviours that we have seen. But regardless of what convoy’s initial aim may have been, it has been hijacked by a fringe whose extreme philosophies have no place in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Neither do they have in place in the kingdom that followers of Jesus the Christ are building up here on earth. And I would like to leave you with an alternative rendition of the blessings and woes from Luke.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
‘Blessed are you who wear a mask,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are vaccinated,
for there is far less chance you will get sick or pass the virus onto others.
‘Blessed are you who accept minor inconvenience now,
for you will be free.
‘Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and abuse you for keeping each another safe. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to those who spoke the truth.
‘But woe to you who refuse to wear a mask,
for you have had your time of easy breathing.
‘Woe to you who are healthy now,
for your refusal to be vaccinated will catch up with you.
‘Woe to you who are celebrating your freedom,
for you will be a prisoner of your ignorance.
‘Woe to you when you they praise you for resisting the mandates, for that is what their ancestors did to the spreaders of misinformation.
13 February 2022