Don’t be a jerk.
Really, it’s that simple. Truthfully, that’s the golden rule of how to love your neighbour period, at least to simplify things: Don’t be a jerk.
I like how one of my pre-seminary professors put it, “Suffer on account of Christ, not because you’re a jerk.”
Aside from mentions of the pandemic in my sermons I’ve shared on here, I’ve been largely silent on the coronavirus on this blog. This hasn’t been due to ignorance or lack for care; I simply didn’t know what exactly I should write about because a lot of things that have needed to be said have been said on other Lutheran blogs and podcasts.
That doesn’t mean what I’m about to say hasn’t been said before, but I believe it needs further emphasis, especially considering our unfortunate proclivity toward narcissism during this time of great need.
Don’t Be A Jerk: Wear Your Face Mask!
I don’t enjoy wearing face masks any more than you do. It’s highly inconvenient and uncomfortable, especially in this Missouri summer humidity. But I’m healthy. I don’t have the virus. So, if loving my neighbour means I have to suffer lack of comfort, then by all means, I’ll wear a face mask.
When this “issue”—which shouldn’t be an issue—was in its early stages, I was halfway through my vicarage. Regarding this issue, something I kept telling my vicarage parishioners was quoting from Romans 15:1-2, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbour for his good, to build him up.”
As Christians, we have the dutiful obligation to “bear with” those who are weak. Bear with them, suffer with them. Please your neighbour for his or her own good, to build them up, not to break them down. We who are strong in that we are healthy and well, we have the obligation to bear with the failings of those who are weak with the virus and those who are more susceptible to the virus.
The fruit of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Galatians 5:23). When the “issue” of face masks causes us to become hostile and divisive, these are the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-20), which we are called to eschew. Similarly, Paul says elsewhere, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
As Christians, we have the deontological duty to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). What is your neighbour’s burden? Help him bear it. “For Christ did not please Himself” (Romans 15:3).
As the Black Plague hit Wittenberg, Germany, Luther wrote the following in a letter to a close friend:
Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun places and persons wherever your neighbour does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal.”
Therefore, I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, He will surely find me and I have done what He has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.
If my neighbour needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely… See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.LW 43:131; emphasis mine
Each of us should take these words of Luther personally as if he wrote this letter to us. How can I help my neighbour? Avoid public gatherings when I don’t need to go out (e.g. grocery shopping, getting gas, going to work, etc.)? Then I shan’t go out. Wear a face mask as suggested by our institutions of authority? Then I shall wear a face mask, even though it is quite bothersome to wear and despite my personal thoughts on its usefulness. An opportunity to administer and take medicine or vaccine? Then I shall do so. And so on.
It is the height of our inborn narcissism that we complain about our individual “rights” when it comes to wearing a face mask for the sake of your neighbour who needs your help to build him or her up. When it comes to loving your neighbour, your “rights” don’t matter. If you think loving your neighbour is about you, then you’re really just loving yourself and not your neighbour.
Bear with One Another
So, how do you love your neighbour during the pandemic? Bear with one another. Consider the other’s weaknesses and wear a mask for the sake of caution. Don’t go out as often. Wash your hands more often. Administer and take medicine whenever possible. Stop complaining. Don’t be a jerk.
What is loving? What causes joy? What grants peace? What is patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlling? Think on these things and do these things.
Am I being hostile or divisive? Stop doing these things.
How can I help my neighbour bear their burdens? Do these things, for this is commendable, honourable, and excellent.