Sapped and deflated, more than a year on, we are still here. Curfews and lockdowns. In Bangkok this week, we have been registering new highs in cases almost every day. In Singapore, untimely and unfortunate, new clusters have emerged. Indonesia and Malaysia, South-East Asia. It feels like a noose tightening around us. This time around, it seems much worse than last year. A new variant, more contagious and deadly is causing more worries and anxiety.

A year on, the situation is a lot tougher. Aid, relief, resources, and savings have all been depleted. Lockdowns work better for the middle to upper class, those who can afford space at home, social distance in comfort, and are not at risk of financial hardship. It does not work so well for the lower income, who are daily waged, living in cramp conditions and literally from hand to mouth. For them it is not about longer-term safety but immediate survival.

Again, the message this virus brought us is repeating itself. We are all inter-connected and no one is to be left behind. The lifestyles of the ‘haves’, affect the lives of the ‘have-nots’. We suffer consequences of each other’s actions or inaction. Both Thailand and Singapore’s current situation came out of KTV lounges and night clubs. God has given us the freedom of choice, and so we cannot blame him for the consequences of our choices. Today, we know that somebody’s singing can sadly have a deadly effect.

“He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. (Today’s Gospel)

All of us, poor or rich have been impacted by this, highlighting our inter-connectedness. Some are torn by grief from the loss of loved ones. Some are in despair, desperate for having lost their incomes. The virus affects us all in different ways and situation leaving us confused, anxious and afraid. We wonder about the big IF, “What IF I get infected, and not survive?” Our Christian belief tells us that God is watching us from above. From that vantage, he must be moved with pity and see us his sheep scattered.

It is in this inter-connectedness where God acts. This inter-connectedness brings to life the practical message of the Gospel: love one another. Being pastoral is to look out for one another, and that no one should be left behind. We each have our days of worries but by God’s grace, we do also have our days of strength. In this inter-connectedness, we find that we are both sheep and shepherd.

But during such challenging times, faith is not necessarily strengthened. In fact, much is lost. For many it can be hard to find God in this pandemic. He remains unseen, but we know hidden in each of us, behind the call to be pastoral to one another. This is a time to be church, a new church perhaps to some of us, to embrace our responsibility to be shepherd to the other. When we do this, we make God real and seen in the realities of life.

In times of adversity, hope sprouts. Being pastoral makes fertile this soil of adversity. The birthplace of faith is in the harsh realities of life. There are today many new births out there in our world. It is time to be church, to be pastoral, to reach out to these.

“I will gather together the remnant of my flock and raise up shepherds for them”. (First Reading)

This is another picture that hangs over my writing desk. I got this from a shop in Hanoi. I like this because it shows a boy way back in the background shepherding the sheep. It reminds me of our call to be shepherds. In this picture it is a massive task for the little boy. Our role as shepherds can be intimidating too but ahead, leading the sheep, is the Good Shepherd, unseen.

16h Sunday in Ordinary Time