The turmoil in the world's financial system has now touched every family on the face of the Earth. In China, rural workers are being laid off by the millions without any social safety net. In the Lower Mainland, pensioners are worried about their incomes. Whole industries are shutting down and thousands being sent home. Banks are being nationalized and taxpayers are footing the bills.
They say the stock market is governed by two powerful forces: greed and fear. This is a little surprising at first sight. You might expect the stock market to follow economic forces - like supply and demand, or the principles of sound financial investment. But not so. The markets are driven by human emotion, and there is great power in the emotions of greed and fear.
We have seen a lot of both in recent years: the vast profits made by banks and other financial institutions for well over a decade; the huge salaries and bonuses paid to corporate CEO's; the intricate, complex bundling of mortgage debt sold to investors all around the world that eventually brought the whole financial system crashing down.
We are not just talking about the wealthy. People with low incomes bought homes they could not afford. Many are caught up in the illusion of spending beyond their means. Millions have been living for too long on credit that is now being called in. And the result is that the whole world has been plunged into financial chaos.
And so we have fear. People are losing their jobs, their homes, their investments, their pensions, their life savings. Again, it's not just the rich who are suffering - it's mostly the poor. There is suddenly no market for the cottage industries of India and Asia. In Canada, shopkeepers and small businesses are feeling the impact of reduced consumer spending. We have become anxious. We don't know when this will end. We are moving from consumerism to frugality but for all the wrong reasons.
Greed and fear: powerful emotions that have powerful consequences.
It is no accident that Jesus spent by far the greater part of his teaching on the proper attitude towards desire and anxiety. He knew the craving for possessions can lead to disaster. He knew our basic security is not simply a matter of what we own. And he went to the Cross to demonstrate the quality of a life that could not be governed by fear.
What we see in Jesus is the antidote to these powerful and negative emotions. He taught us to be satisfied with enough, and not to give in to the temptation of more. He showed us the meaning of spiritual simplicity, how we can live our lives in contentment and peace with a deep sense of gratitude for all we have. He told us over and over again that God will provide for our every need, and that we must provide for each other.
The air, filled with weeping
The earth, dark with grief
Water, turned to vinegar
But the fire is not dead.
Silently it kindles
Rises brighter than the sun.
Eternal life is born
The greatest commandment, he said, is the law of two loves - love of God and love of neighbour. Not one without the other, but both at the same time. We live in the intersection between these two loves, he said, like a cross that meets in our centre. God and each other: the cross that meets here, in each of us.
Many people think that the opposite of love is hate. But the Bible says the opposite of love is fear. "There is no room for fear in love" says the First Letter of John. "Perfect love casts out fear." (4:18) To be a loving person is to be unafraid. To be a loving person means you are not anxious about failure. You are not worried about change. You have formed no attachment to things that will inevitably, one day, pass away.
Mahatma Ghandi once said that if you are afraid of death you are not free. You are a slave. You can be bought. There is a price you will be prepared to pay to anyone or anything that promises you a different ending. Ghandi had read the New Testament when he was a student in London. He was transformed by the teaching of Jesus.
The antidote to these forces of illusion and chaos are the spiritual virtues we see in Jesus-love and compassion, faith, honesty, and trust in God. A trusting person is not a naïve person. A trusting person puts his or her faith-not in another-but in God. It is to live with the absolute acceptance that whatever happens God will prevail.
A compassionate person is not a doormat, not a passive submissive who lets others walk all over them. A compassionate person is strong, ready to believe the best and not the worst, ready to give others a chance when the world will not. Compassion requires great courage, great strength of will.
And love is not the same as sentimentality. It's not weeping at the soap operas on TV. Genuine love is a hard thing. It means carrying on when the temptation is to quit. It means putting yourself aside through your own choice and decision. Love is sometimes about sacrifice, and this is the deep significance of Easter.
God took the sacrifice of Jesus and transformed it into victory over death. All the despair and tragedy of his dying were left there on the Cross, and in their place a resurrection hope was born. Light began to shine where darkness had prevailed, and God showed again the sovereignty of love over fear through the mystery of the empty tomb.
Easter invites us to set aside the negative emotions that can drive so much of our lives. God is to be found in the light, in the hope and confidence that enables us to act and live in the serenity of trust. There is a great deal of God's light in our world. The power of the Risen Christ is undiminished by our current anxieties and gloom. There is a new life beyond this present crisis. Our faith is not in the marketplace, but in the living God.
So, let us take Lent to reflect on the motives that govern our feelings and actions. And let us take Easter to rejoice in the goodness and beauty of God, whose light will prevail in all the times ahead