No, leprosy was not a global pandemic.
The world is shutting down. Across many countries, including my native Denmark, schools, bars and churches are closing. We are told to essentially avoid other people, if possible, while ensuring that vital societal functions remain open. All to halt the spread of the virus, limit the strain on the healthcare system and protect the weakest of our fellow citizens – and ensure that the economy can recover afterwards.
This is unprecedented, and to some degree unnerving, but also quite reasonable and in a stable society like ours fairly manageable.
But last night I came to think about Jesus, two thousand years ago. He was a man of the people, isolation definitely not his thing. He notably mingled with and touched lepers – the outcasts of the day. They were untouchable for a good reason, to avoid the spread of a deadly and incurable disease.
We usually hail Jesus’ compassion for the lepers as good thing, a quality of his unequivocal love for other people. I don’t contest that. On the other hand, leprosy in 1st century Palestine was an isolated phenomenon, not a global pandemic.
Which once again renders the question “What Would Jesus Do?” irrelevant, despite any good intentions.
If you do want to follow Jesus, don’t copy him, but learn from his advice. Remember his parable of the sheep and the goats:
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matt 25:37-40, NIV)
Today, we might paraphrase this into: “When did we stand next to you and cover our mouth when coughing? When did we wash our hands thoroughly before touching you? When did we stay at home so we did didn’t infect your old mother with a heart condition?”
So why isn’t God stopping the virus? In a sense, he is – through the hands of the countless people making sacrifices to contain the spread and protect the weak.
Let us remember to thank all the healthcare workers, police officers, shopkeepers, ambulance drivers, politicians, journalists, and more, who are doing their best to get us all safely through the crisis.
Jesus taught us compassion; in this case let us show compassion to others by doing what we can to prevent the spread of the virus. For ourselves and our families, and for our neighbours as ourselves.