This has been an interesting week to say the least. The coronavirus has begun to consume our lives. It’s the only news on TV, institutions are closing, and businesses are hurting. Grocery stores are empty and many people are in a state of panic. The fear has begun to put people in self-preservation mode.
Bible studies aren’t meeting, churches are shutting their doors, and communities are isolating. How should we as Christians be responding? Does scripture tell us when times get tough to go home and lock your doors? John Ortberg writes about how Christians responded to earlier plagues in his book “Who is this Man?”
“During the reign of Marcus Aurelius around AD 165, an epidemic of what may have been smallpox killed somewhere between a third and a fourth of the population, including Marcus Aurelius himself. A little less than a century later came a second epidemic, in which at its height five thousand people were reported dying daily in the city of Rome alone. For the most part, people responded in panic. There was no guidance in the writings of Homer, no commands from the Greek god Zeus to care for dying people you do not know while putting your own life at risk. Greek historian Thucydides wrote about how people in Athens responded during an earlier plague: “They died with no one to look after them. Indeed there were many houses in which all the inhabitants perished through lack of any intention for care. The bodies of the dying were heaped up, one on top of the other….
No fear of god or law of man had a restraining influence.” Now what had happened in Greece was happening in Rome: “At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treated unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease.” But there was in that world a community that remembered they followed a man who would touch lepers while they were unclean; who told his disciples to go heal the sick, who got in arguments at dinners that embarrassed whole tables. Dionysius, a third-century bishop of Alexandria, wrote about their actions during the plagues: “Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need, and ministering to them in Christ. And with them departed this life serenely happy, for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors, and cheerfully accepting their pains.”
Read now what might be familiar words: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me…. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The idea that “the least of these” were to be treasured — that somehow the Jesus that they followed was present in despised suffering — was essentially a Copernican revolution of humanity. It created a new vision of the human being. People actually took Jesus at his word. As Christian communities responded to the hungry and the sick, even outsiders took notice.” (John Ortberg, Who is this Man?)
I am not encouraging you to be reckless. But I am encouraging you to follow Jesus- and sometimes following Jesus means dying to yourself. Many people are hurting and afraid; Christian, do not close your doors! Do not isolate yourself! Love your neighbor, be strong and be bold. Take this opportunity to be a beacon of hope in your community. Let the outsiders take notice. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28
Do not misplace your fear. Your fear does not belong to the coronavirus, it belongs to God. Please hear me on this, we should still be prudent and wise. I’m not advocating that everyone throw off safety precautions and disregard what the health professionals are advising. What I am passionately advocating is that you do not run on the day of battle like the Ephraimites (Psalm 78:9). If Christians run and hide when times get tough, then who is left to fight? Who is out there showing Christ’s love?
Brothers and sisters, may we be bold and courageous, strengthened by the example of our Messiah and his promises. Go out into the world and make disciples, love those who are sick and hurting, just as Jesus has loved you.