The most startling interruption I have had in my life was when the bedroom door opened unexpectedly and I saw the silhouette of a burglar standing there.
We don't like unexpected intrusions into the routine of our everyday lives, do we? Such disruptions can be unsettling, painful and discomforting. The key thing is: how do we then react? And is it the right response?
In the case of the burglar in the doorway, I gave a loud roar, leapt out of bed, and started chasing him. I lived in a top-floor flat and so he had to run down several flights of stairs to escape. I was just one turn or so of the staircase behind him all the way down, occasionally glimpsing a trouser leg and shoe as he leapt and jumped ahead of me trying to make his getaway. Then in the entrance hall on the ground floor, I finally closed in, reached out my hand to grab him, and – at that moment, my pyjama trousers fell down. So he got away. Funny, but absolutely true.
Well for most of us reading this, the coronavirus is of course a far more serious interruption; for many of us in various countries and states, our lives have been totally thrown up into the air and it is too soon to say yet quite how the pieces will land. But how we react is something we do have a choice about. And it's crucial we respond rightly.
Some of Jesus' contemporaries were understandably disturbed and unsettled by two big news events in his day, and no doubt wanted to know how they should respond. One incident was the collapse of a tower, resulting in eighteen fatalities. Another was an act of brutality by local ruler Pontius Pilate, who slaughtered some worshippers at the Jerusalem temple – and then mixed their blood with that of the sacrificial animals.
No doubt Jesus' friends wanted to know: how should they respond? Perhaps they wondered: Should they rise up against Pilate? Should they find the builders of the tower and administer a bit of vigilante justice? And so they ask Jesus (Luke 13v1). His response is fascinating. Does he start a blame game, denouncing the builders of the tower, for example, or criticising the regime of Pilate? Well, who knows, perhaps the builders were indeed at fault – and certainly Pilate was.
But no. Jesus instead focuses with a laser-like precision on something else, urging immediate and dramatic action. It's something so vital he says it twice in identical words: 'Unless you repent, you too will all perish,' he declares (Luke 13v3 and v5).
So what about us, in the context of Covid-19? Is our main focus to blame Boris Johnson or Donald Trump – or perhaps the Chinese, or the World Health Organisation, or the global capitalist system? No doubt there are criticisms to be made legitimately of some of them. But the number one most important thing is that we feel jolted afresh into repentance. Or to put it another way, that you feel jolted into repentance; that I as an individual feel jolted into repentance.
Christian leader Francis Chan is quite right to say: 'What a powerful time to repent... Think about humbling yourself.' And John Piper is spot on to seek to 'summon the whole world, including the Church, to repentance'.
He adds: 'What I mean by repentance is experiencing a transformation of our thinking and our feeling and our living that reflects, brings our lives into alignment with, the infinite value of Jesus Christ.'
So what about you? Do you need to wake up, turn away from your current life and re-orientate yourself around Christ for the first time? Have you considered his claims, read his teaching, thought about the evidence for the resurrection? Is today the day you open yourself to his grace and presence in an act of turning around – or repentance?
Or maybe you are a Christian already. Repentance doesn't stop when we come to faith. As the Holy Spirit works in us, we discover new layers of change God wants to bring about in our lives. So for you and me both, repentance is vital.
Of what do you need to repent? Half-heartedness in your relationship with Christ? Prayerlessness? Gluttony? Drunkenness? Have you 'lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence' (James 5v5)? Have you been committing adultery? Or watching porn? Or not bothering to attend church? Or been destructive in how you speak of others? The same questions apply – soberingly – to me.
And to all of us, both the Old and New Testaments say, 'Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts...' Today. This moment. Now.
David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister @Baker_David_A