12 March 2021


Politicians in Pandemics

by Fr Nicholas King, SJ

As the effects of our pandemic have been unfolding, there are many groups of people whom we have come to see differently as we watch what is going on: nurses and cleaners and teachers are obvious examples. But what about that favourite target of all our derision, the politicians? Now put down that rotten tomato; this is not the time to be throwing fruit at other people, no matter how unpopular.

Politicians, you see, are not “in it just for what they can get out of it”; for the most part they are where they are because they wanted to serve their country, assisted, no doubt, by a healthy dose of the ambition that helped them get there. You must give them some credit for having tried to deal with the Coronavirus when, a little over a year ago, we had hardly heard the word; the manual of instructions had not yet been written, and what seems obvious to us now as observers of the scene, must at the beginning have seemed to them very far from self-evident. 

You might think of Pontius Pilate, perhaps; he simply cannot work out who Jesus is, or how to handle him. Look at John’s Gospel (18:33-35); Pilate is a politician whose job absolutely depends on keeping the peace, at a very sensitive time of the year, and dealing with people he hardly understood (Jewish nationalism was always very heated at Passover, it being the celebration of God’s having liberated Israel from oppression in Egypt). You can also feel that he wants to go deeper into the mystery of Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?...What have you done?”, he asks. And Jesus’ response, it must be said, does not offer much help: “My Kingdom is not of this world”. At the end, all Pilate can do in response to Jesus’ reference to “everyone who is of the truth” is to ask, “What is Truth?”, a profoundly philosophical question, which does not get the debate much further forward.

Would it be a good idea for you, this week, to pray for politicians, especially those you most dislike? They have a very difficult task.

Let us pray..

God of power and might, wisdom and justice,
through you authority is rightly administered,
laws are enacted, and judgment is decreed.
Assist with your spirit of counsel and fortitude
the President and other government leaders of these United
May they always seek
the ways of righteousness, justice and mercy.
Grant that they may be enabled by your powerful protection
to lead our country with honesty and integrity.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Fr Nick is a Jesuit priest who is currently Assistant Catholic Chaplain at Oxford University. He has recently published a translation of the entire Greek Bible.