For 22 April 2020: Second Wednesday of Easter
Read: Matthew 7:12; 9:35-38
We continue to live in an unprecedented event during most of our lifetimes, but it is not unique. We’ve learned about the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 recently. This COVID-19 pandemic is likened to it. We human beings have faced these type things previously; few of us have faced something like this during our lifetimes. However, for some the reminders of previous pandemics and epidemics is all to real. Many who are alive today survived the polio outbreaks of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Many who are alive today survived the HIV pandemic of the 1980’s. We humans have seen these events previously. They are not limited to our history books and medieval Europe.
As I have reflected on those previous pandemic and epidemic events, I have recognized that I am most impressed with the acts of compassion and humility those previous ages brought about in response. I am moved by lay men who accepted the call of God to care for the dead and the dying through the plague, the Black Death. I am moved by nurses giving of themselves to children whose lives were lived in iron lung machines. I am moved by the seemingly unending supply of love and compassion humans can have for each other when we are at our very best. Our present circumstances call us to our better nature, our best selves. At Matthew 7:12 Jesus teaches us, “In everything do to others as you would have them do you; for this is the law and the prophets” (NRSV). We call it the “Golden Rule.” I think of it as the “ethic of compassion.”
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” is how Matthew 9:36 (NRSV) tells us Jesus reacted as he traveled and preached throughout the cities and villages. His response is not to hide but to have compassion. The passage concludes with “Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (9:37-38, NRSV).” As I trace this stream of thinking in Matthew, I weave together as tapestry which is a picture which calls me to courageous, faithful, and humble action. Harvesting crops is a humble person’s work, often the poor. Jesus compassionate response is not to “fix” anything but to send his disciples. Jesus sends us to be his compassionate presence with what instruction? “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” the ethic of compassion.
These days of sheltering in place will end at some point. I do not know when, but it will. What stories will we tell of this time? Will we complain about lost economic opportunities? Will we recount only the statistics of infections and death? Will our stories be about protests and political tomfoolery? Will we tell stories of our family growing closer? Friends coming together for the common good and well-being of others? What stories will we tell from this time in our lives? How will you write the “ethic of compassion” upon your heart, our life, and our times?