Not COVID-19, but Jesus?
The scriptural passages quoted yesterday should make us cautious in the way we use the Bible to support our claim, especially when dealing with signs which according to the Bible are not always so obvious. Often, we look out for signs, without our eyes on Jesus. A passage in Matthew can illustrate for us the difficulty we face with the interpretation of signs. Confronted with troubles and persecutions, the followers of Jesus asked him for a sign that indicates the end of time. Jesus confirmed that there will be signs of the time and the end of the age. Yet, he also warned them of the deception by false prophets:
“And Jesus answered and said to them: ‘Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many’” (Mt 24:4-11).
Even the overwhelming existence of sins is not a clear sign of the end of time. According to John, sins are not the cause of disasters and destruction, but rather their purpose is to make visible God’s work of mercy to the nations (Jn 9:1-3).
According to the renowned biblical scholar Nicolas T. Wright, the only true sign that God will give to the sinful generation is Jesus whose whole purpose of existence was to inaugurate visibly the reality of the coming of the kingdom of God: “When Jesus healed people, when he celebrated parties with all and sundry, when he offered forgiveness freely to people as if he were replacing the Temple itself with his work – in all these ways it was clear, and he intended it to be clear, that this wasn’t just a foretaste of a future reality. This was reality itself.”
Through his actions and words, Jesus “is summing up the whole ancient prophetic tradition and re-expressing its message in terms of the last great warnings to Jerusalem and its inhabitants.” Hence, the pandemic is not the final sign of the end of the age, since history has already known many recurring signs of disasters and destructions.
The narrative of the owner of the vineyard (Mk 12:1-12) clearly demonstrates to us that Jesus’ mission was the last and ultimate sign for us since the franchisees of the vineyard had killed all prophets whom God had sent to the vineyard. Jesus then is “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This came from the Lord and is wonderful in our eyes?” (Mk 12:10-11).
Other passages are clearer about Jesus representing the coming of a new era. Luke saw the preaching of Jesus in the synagogue as the fulfilment of all prophetic signs: “He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. And the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. He began by saying to them, ‘today as you listen, this Scripture has been fulfilled” (Lk 4:20-21). The Letter to the Hebrews is likewise crystal clear: “In the past, God spoke to our ancestors many times and in many ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son. He is the one through whom God created the universe, the one whom God has chosen to possess all things at the end” (Heb 1:1-2).
It should be clear by now that the New Testament neither considers natural disasters nor the pandemic as signs of God’s punitive action against the people. Rather, it portrays Jesus (through his suffering, death and resurrection) as the ultimate reality of God’s rescuing plan. Even though God is angry, His anger is not about destruction. Often, anger is domesticated by God’s patient love for his people. He calls people to repent not because they experience plagues and famines etc, but because of the arrival of God’s kingdom.
As a Creator-God, He cannot just annihilate or destroy what is created. What God does rather is to renew what has been made. This renewal is a continuous process and is not just a one-off action through the provocation of a disaster. As Isaiah 42:14-15 or Rom 8:22  already have alluded to, this renewal is a painful process.
Fr Joseph Lam OSA is the parish priest of St Finbar’s Parish, Glenbrook.
 Nicolas T. Wright, Simply Jesus. Who he was, what he did, why it matters (London: SPCK, 2011), 104.
 Nicolas T. Wright, God and the Pandemic. A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and its Aftermath (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2020), 17.
 “For we know that up to the present time all of creation groans with pain, like the pain of a childbirth.”