25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And 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 answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, 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, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” – Luke 10:25-37 (ESV)
Normally I would be sitting in worship with you, but that is not possible because of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Instead, I am sitting at my desk contemplating the impact the Pandemic will have on us as Christians.
To explain, I read David Brooks column, Historically, Pandemics Wipe Out Compassion, in the 18 March 2020 Scranton Times-Tribune. Brooks points out that “Some disasters, like hurricanes and earthquakes, can bring people together, but…pandemics generally drive them apart,” and it’s not due just to social distancing. He says “Dread overwhelms the normal bonds of human affection.”
To prove his point, he then looks at several pandemics:
- 1348 Florence plague: “In ‘The Decameron,’ Giovanni Boccaccio writes…’…among neighbors was scarce found any that shewed fellow-feeling for another…what is more, and scarcely to be believed, fathers and mothers were found to abandon their own children, untended, unvisited, to their fate.”
- 1665 London epidemic: “In…’A Journal of the Plague Year,’ Daniel Defoe reports, ‘This was a time when everyone’s private safety lay so near them they had no room to pity the distresses of others…The danger of immediate death to ourselves, took away all bonds of love, all concern for one another.’”
- 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic: “…John M. Barry, author of ‘The Great Influenza,’ reports that as conditions worsened, health workers in city after city pleaded for volunteers to care for the sick. Few stepped forward.
In Philadelphia, the head of emergency aid pleaded for help in taking care of sick children. Nobody answered. The organization’s director turned scornful: ‘Hundreds of women…had delightful dreams of themselves in the roles of angels of mercy…Nothing seems to rouse them now…There are families in which every member is ill, in which the children are actually starving because there is no one to give them food. The death rate is so high, and still they hold back.
This explains one of the puzzling features of the 1918 pandemic. When it was over; people didn’t talk about it. There were very few books or plays written about it. Roughly 675,000 Americans lost their lives to the flu, compared with 53,000 in battle in World War I, and yet it left almost no conscious cultural mark.
Perhaps it’s because people didn’t like who they had become. In her 1976 dissertation, ‘A Cruel Wind,’ Dorothy Ann Pettit argues that the 1918 flu pandemic contributed to a kind of spiritual torpor afterward. People emerged from it physically and spiritually fatigued. The flu Pettit writes, had a sobering and disillusioning effect on the national spirit.”
Brooks goes on to say, “There is one exception: health care workers. In every pandemic there are doctors and nurses who respond with heroism and compassion. That’s happening today.” As an example, he cites an article in The New York Times by Mike Baker about Kirkland, Washington, “…where the staff showed the kind of effective compassion that has been evident in all pandemics down the centuries.”
Brooks concludes by saying, “Maybe this time we’ll learn from their example. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to take steps to fight the moral disease that accompanies the physical one.”
My grandparents’ generation had to deal with World War I and the Spanish Flu pandemic. My parents’ generation had to deal with the Great Depression and World War II. Since then, there have been smaller events; e.g., the Korean, Vietnam and Middle East wars, the Swine Flu outbreak, hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters, but nothing on the same, world-wide scale. Consequently, my generation, my children’s generation and even my grandchildren’s generation have never had to face an ordeal that truly tested us as a society and as individuals. How will we react now that we are faced with a worldwide pandemic?
We’re already seeing some of humanity’s down side here at the very start of this pandemic; e.g.,
- Young people partying on the beaches in Florida as if nothing was happening and saying, “The coronavirus isn’t going to stop me from partying,” with no apparent care for the health and welfare of others.
- The profiteer (and those like him) who bought up 17,700 bottles of hand-sanitizer for $7 a bottle and was selling them for $70 a bottle enriching himself at the expense of desperate people.
Clearly, today we have all of the wonders of modern science and medicine to help us weather this Coronavirus Pandemic, but as we have seen in Italy, the worst is yet to come. Our medical system is already showing signs of stress as the number of patients grows exponentially in these early days and our government and industry leaders struggle to keep up with the demand for medical supplies for our frontline doctors, nurses, EMT’s, etc.
How will we as Christians react? Will we react like they did in previous pandemics with fear, panic, and self-preservation? Or will we do as Jesus has taught us keeping in mind the Great Commandment, to, “…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.” – Luke 10:27 (ESV) and His direction “…as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” – Luke 6:31 (ESV).
Note, Jesus didn’t put any conditions on this. He didn’t say it was okay to drop these commandments when we fell on hard times or when our lives might be threatened if we stepped in to help another. He didn’t say if an epidemic or pandemic hit we could take care of ourselves first and forget the other person. No, he expects us to do whatever we can to help our fellow man.
For most of us, that may simply turn out to be isolating ourselves so we don’t become carriers and put others including our most vulnerable at risk. Clearly, it means we are not to hoard or worse yet to profit off the suffering of our neighbor. In some cases it may mean that we will be called to do something more. For example, there are both national and local calls for people to sew masks and donate them to first responders and hospital staffs. In coming days there may be even more calls for volunteers. Yesterday the evening news reported that thirteen doctors have now succumbed to the Coronavirus. If a call comes for volunteers to help support our medical professionals, will we respond as they did in the Spanish Flu pandemic or will we rise to the occasion like the Greatest Generation?
In a small, but telling way I was personally put to the test yesterday. My mother-in-law needs surgery. My wife was notified yesterday that it is scheduled for April 13 in Syracuse, NY. My initial reaction was one of concern for my wife’s wellbeing since she will be the one to take her mother from her home in Elmira Heights, NY to Syracuse, but after a few minutes to allow this information to settle in my mind, I told my wife we will do whatever we have to do in the face of this pandemic; i.e., first and foremost we will “hunker down” so we minimize our chances of getting sick and consequently place others in danger of becoming sick, but we will also take care of her mother and do whatever else we might be called upon to do.
Perhaps this is the course of action for all of us; i.e.,
- “Hunker down” to keep from getting sick or infecting someone else.
- When we receive new information such as a need to assist a loved one or neighbor which may in turn put us at risk, take a few minutes to mentally digest that information before reacting.
- Praying for guidance may/should be an important part of this step.
- Take appropriate action keeping in mind what Jesus has taught us; i.e. the Great Commandment and the Golden Rule. This may mean:
- Doing nothing; e.g., foregoing attendance at the funeral of a loved one.
- Contacting the appropriate authorities and turning whatever it is over to them.
- Making surgical masks or donating other medical supplies or money for their procurement.
- Volunteering to serve in some capacity on the frontline.
None of us know exactly how we will react until we are faced with a situation, but throughout this pandemic we all can pray that we might live up to our Christian principles and Wesley’s three simple rules to “Do no harm. Do all the good you can. Stay in love with God.” Hopefully, that will show us how we can break the pattern from previous pandemics of placing ourselves first and show us how we can overcome our fears and become Good Samaritans serving our neighbors during this trying time.