Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been stricken with coronavirus and now lies in intensive care in St Thomas’ Hospital, London. He is manifestly quite frail and on oxygen support. Ostensibly, this is a ‘precautionary’ move, but no-one goes into intensive care as a precaution: one is admitted because the intervention required is intensive. The next few days – even hours – are crucial; he is a fighter, but his recovery is by no means assured. Covid-19 can be very unpleasant indeed for those afflicted, and its journey through many of tens of thousands of bodies has proved fatal.
The Archbishop of Canterbury tweeted his prayer of compassion for the Prime Minister at this time:
Newly-elected Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer has sent his good wishes, and US President Donald Trump says the whole of America is praying for the Prime Minister. Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Layla Moran tweeted a remarkable message of compassionate unity, for which she has endured some criticism:
Leading the nation, the Rev’d Marcus Walker of St Bartholomew’s Church, London, broadcast a beautiful prayer via Twitter:
And the Vicar of Sedbergh, the Rev’d Andrew McMullon, didn’t:
Imagine if Jesus took this approach:
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! But let it be known that the Romans are brutal, callous and oppressive occupiers, and inflict great suffering upon all of Israel. I wish you all on the scrapheap of history as the brutal tormentors and persecutors you are.
But, humanly speaking, I wish you no ill, and I’m very happy to pray that your servant might be healed.”
This is when compassion becomes a vice rather than a virtue; when compassion is conditional on a self-purifying and political-moralising declaration of ideological detachment, rather than unconditional, gracious and merciful. When compassion is judgmental, when it weighs people’s virtues and vices before it may be expressed, it is not Christian compassion. When a situation calls for more compassion than a priest or vicar (especially) is prepared to show, it is best to say nothing at all.