John 7:40: When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.”
I hate this word. I think it is hardly ever accurate. Everything has a precedent – even the emergence of COVID-19 can be traced and compared to previous pandemics and chains of causation. There are an “unprecedented” number of active COVID cases in my county this morning – 1,095 – but we KNEW this would happen. We knew how to prevent it. The number is higher than its ever been, but it’s not like we are at a loss to understand how it happened. There is precedent: when entire populations fail to take proven preventative measures, pandemics rage on. The government refuses to pay people to stay home, bad actors persist in spreading misinformation, and our care for one another is smaller than our selfishness.
Even when it feels like we have no framework for understanding, even when it seems like there is no data to help us through, even when we feel completely at a loss…we’re usually wrong. There is wisdom and creativity and conviction and divine guidance available to us. In every moment.
When Jesus was traveling around the ancient world teaching and preaching and healing people, nobody really knew who he was or what he was up to. There were raging debates among religious scholars and leaders about whether or not he was a grifter, a prophet, a poser or the actual Messiah. According to the gospel writers, Jesus himself was confusingly hot and cold about whether or not he WANTED people to know – or, at least, whether or not he wanted CERTAIN people to know.
Jesus – the Christ – God Incarnate – was certainly unprecedented. Except also, not. John’s gospel starts right out by saying that the Word that became flesh was with God in the very beginning, and everything that came into being did so through him. So, of course, Christ’s birth was unprecedented. And also, Christ’s birth had the most precedented precedent of all.
This simultaneously frustrates and encourages me: I am held by the knowledge that there is no human situation we can get ourselves into that will shake God. And we have access to that divine care and guidance in every moment. And also, we humans persist in running around like chickens with our heads cut off, trying to rely on our own understanding and grit instead of pausing, slowing, listening and proceeding with CARE.
I hope that these last weeks of 2020 offer us all slower moments, and that we willingly enter into them, with open hearts and minds. I hope we can set aside the frantic anxiety of this time and sit, quietly, to be connected again to our roots, our ancestors, and the God that I imagine laughs a deep belly laugh every time the word “unprecedented” shows up on our lips.