As someone who dares to say that they try to follow Jesus in some feeble way, I have been watching, listening and reading posts about wearing a mask and getting a vaccine with much interest. Ok, I’ll be honest and say that I sometimes get angry when I do those things. But it’s mainly an anger based in what I understand as a very clear directive from Jesus about how we should respond, and how many Christians are responding. No, Jesus did not speak directly to how we should respond to a pandemic. But he did teach some concepts that we don’t have to stretch to say they apply.
Before I go any further, I want to be clear that this has nothing to do with whether or not a government can mandate anything.
As a Christian my highest loyalty,
and what should direct how I make decisions,
I really don’t care what a government says about this.
Even if I were to believe that a government can’t mandate,
what decision I make about how to act should be based in the words and actions of Jesus,
not the freedoms I do or don’t have from the government.
I will do my best to not take these words from the Bible out of contest. Here are some passages that I think are clear.
When Jesus was asked about which commandment was the greatest, he responded with this:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
This is foundational of who we are as Christians. The teaching to love your neighbor as yourself is a command to not put yourself above others. We are to see them, at the very least, on the same level as ourselves. But Jesus had already said something that puts even this into a bit more context.
25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant…
33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
So it wasn’t just about loving people as yourself, putting them on equal footing, Jesus actually advocated for treating others better than ourselves. We should humble ourselves and be their servant.
11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
If we turn to one of the most familiar and beloved stories from the gospels, we find an example of what Jesus meant in being a servant to others.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
In this story, Jesus is explaining who our neighbors are (everyone, even the ones we don’t like), but he goes beyond just explaining that. In this story, the man who showed love and mercy to the neighbor actually went out of his way to show it. He could have just tended to his wounds. He could have just paid someone to help. But he made sacrifices. He tended to his wounds, transported him to safety, took care of him there, and paid for any more expenses that would be incurred in others taking care of the neighbor.
So loving neighbor includes a willingness to go the extra mile (another teaching of Jesus, but we’ll let that go for now) to make sacrifices.
In the gospel of John, Jesus puts a bigger emphasis on sacrificial loving of neighbor. It starts at the Last Supper, after the meal, Jesus gets up and demonstrates what he meant by loving others.
4 He (Jesus) got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
He then tells them they should do likewise, and that he had set an example for them to follow. Jesus then spends some time giving some final words of instruction.
12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
Sacrificial love is a foundational characteristic for those who are followers of Jesus. The idea of leaning on my individual right above what would help others, the “greater good” if you will, is antithetical to the teachings and the example of Jesus.
And just so we understand that this is not just my thoughts and interpretation, the Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2
1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.