What Did Jesus Do?
“…if you can you choose, you can make me clean” (Mark 1: 40-45)
“A Christian life should be one long sacred liturgy of praising God”
Note: I have received several affirming comments from the faithful on this reflection. They mentioned that as Christ followers they have been challenged by people to defend the practice of wearing masks and asked, “where is it in the bible that it advocates the use of a mask?” They have found this reflection helpful in defending the Christian perspective on the necessity for wearing a mask in a pandemic.
My seminary professor wisely cautioned his seminarians to be mindful of the fact that when we do exegetical reflection for preaching or teaching, we should always consider three pillars (1) the time the text was addressing (2) the context it was written for and (3) time and context determine content. The gospel reference (Mark 1:12-15) is about Jesus healing a leper; Matthew 26:6 identifies the leper to be Simon in whose house a woman anointed the feet of Jesus in preparation for his suffering, death and burial and ultimate resurrection.
Leprosy was a dreaded infectious disease that was damaging at several levels. (1) Physically, the disease could be painful and sometimes fatal. (2) Socially, the law required lepers to be quarantined outside of Israelite society (Leviticus 13:45-46). (3) Religiously, lepers were ritually unclean and thus unable to participate in worship (Leviticus 13:3,8). The combined weight of these burdens was extreme, and nothing was more welcome then healing and cleansing.
It was unthinkable for a Jew to touch a leprous outcast. Jesus nevertheless crosses this boundary and reverses the expected outcome: instead of contracting ritual uncleanness himself, he cleanses the leper of this ailment by the very act of touching him. This shows that Jesus brings into the world a new form of holiness that overcomes even defilement and disease. This act shows the divine aspect of Christ.
What is equally interesting in this miracle event was the human aspect and action of Jesus. After he did that divine act he was conscientious and observant of the community’s expectation by instructing the leper to go and show himself to the priest, the person who had the authority to authenticate his healing and confirm his return back to full inclusion into societal life. Second, Jesus took the place of the leper by going into exile from society. Jesus observed the standard protocol of the culture by entering into quarantine in the countryside (although he did continue to maintain accessibility to those who chose to come visit with him). Jesus traded places with the leper in that while the leper was returned to his family and community, Jesus went outside the sphere of Israelite society.
This is precisely the nature of our Lord and Savior who by his death and resurrection “swapped places” with us all. By swapping places with him, Jesus allowed Simon to remain wholesome and be permitted to return to God and society. Healing is about Jesus’ empathy, that is walking in our ‘shoes’, feeling our pain, undergoing our rejection from others; redemption is about Jesus living vicariously through us and we through him.
The question is asked, what did Jesus do in a health and safety crisis? He observed the protocol of the day by showing respect for the law and societal expectation. Yet at the same time his love and care for the leper remained paramount, he was willing to put the welfare of the ‘holy other’ before his personal safety and well-being. Through this balance his place in society was retained and Jesus practiced what he preached, that is, “to love your neighbor as yourself…” (Luke 10: 27). In quarantine he continued to show himself as the prophet with authority more superior than other contemporary prophets.
I understand and identify with the concern many have for wearing masks. It is ‘pesky’ and ‘uncomfortable’ to keep on all the time, a genuine ‘royal nuisance’. And yet it is also the protocol of our day and a societal expectation. I go regularly to cardio rehab at Easton Memorial Hospital and everyone without exception is required to wear a mask. If not, the person isn’t permitted to enter the building. In addition, before every visit we are asked the COVID-19 protocol questions, both the day before we are expected to attend and again when we enter the facility. I attend workout three times a week, wearing a mask while working out on the equipment for 90 minutes. It is awful and uncomfortable to breathe, but I desire to live for my wife, children and family members. My genuine desire is to continue to serve my ministry with Jesus, my Lord and Savior. Likewise, I value and care for the life of the person working out next to me, and I appreciate and value the medical professionals working on the frontlines to keep us all safe and healthy.
I don’t enjoy doing so, but it is the protocol instituted by the hospital to protect the health and safety of everyone. Jesus commands us to practice the ‘Golden Rule’ – “in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7: 12), “do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6: 31). A genuine form of active contribution to the welfare and happiness of others. In this I am living into my baptismal covenant by honoring and respecting the ‘dignity of every human being’; ‘seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself’ and being an ‘example of the Good News of God in Christ.’
Also, when I wear a mask, I protect you from catching any virus, especially one as lethal as COVID 19, that travels like a ‘thief in the night’- the invisible enemy. And, that is because I love you so much that I can’t bear to see you feel uncomfortable when you are in my presence. Wearing a mask is equally a pastoral statement as it is a health and safety practice, it is about the ‘holy other’ person’s comfort and safety, a caring demonstration of my love for you and you for me.
As Christians we embody the spirit and teaching of Jesus in the daily practice of living in community. Jesus challenges us to take care of each other because it shows that we are living by his standard. Personally, I am convinced that’s how the good news of Jesus is best proclaimed to the world, and certainly offers a more impactful and transformative way of practicing evangelism.
To date, over 7.5 million of our fellow Americans have contracted COVID-19 and over 207,000 have died including doctors, health care professionals and first responders. There is no doubt that this is a health and safety crisis of epic proportion. Learnings from the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic revealed that, by practicing the very pandemic protocols of which we are currently advised, the people defeated the virus within fifteen months. This was accomplished through patience, cooperation and a common will, without the benefit of the technological conveniences of today. History is an excellent tutor. The nine (9) Beatitudes of Jesus (Matthew 5: 1-12) are both eschatological and ethical. In today’s world of the COVID-19 Pandemic it may be prudent to reflect on these verses… and live to see another day.
My beloved, I continue to encourage the practice of safe and healthy protocols. Observe the guidelines carefully developed and outlined by our Diocesan COVID-19 Pandemic Preparedness and Response Task Force, the State of Maryland, and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Together we shall overcome this pandemic. We continue to hold fast to the watchwords: Stay Calm. Stay Connected. Stay Church. Take Care of Each Other. Even as we endeavor also to “Be Educated*Be Equipped*Be Engaged”. Sisters and brothers – stay loved and be loved!
With my care, concern and daily prayers for all of you!
Let us pray –
Shield us, Lord from all evil,
and lift us from apathy and despair,
that even when we are terrified,
we may trust your power to save;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!!