Day One of the state-wide order to wear masks in public. Already some county DA’s have announced they won’t prosecute (at least one saying it isn’t legal), and several local police departments have announced (for various reasons) that they won’t enforce the order. Not a good start to something which every reputable expert has said is effective and necessary to stem Covid.
So, to be brief, wear your mask!
And remember, masks are still required to enter the church building.
Now, lest you think I am wading into something I should avoid, like politics, Or you think that I am infringing on your liberties, or you think that this just isn’t a church matter, rest assured…it’s none of the above!
This is not a political…or legal…or “personal freedom” issue. In fact, while it has to do with health and public health, there is something even more at stake here. This is a “spirituality” issue. Even more, it’s Biblical!
Now, I know – nowhere in Scripture is there a story about mask wearing during a pandemic. And while there are 613 commandments in the Old Testament, seemingly covering just about everything, none of them refer to masks. At all.
Yet, this is both spiritual and Biblical. Here’s why…
In the mid 50’s, about 20 years after Jesus, the Apostle Paul was busy planting and tending to various church communities throughout the Mediterranean world. One of them was Corinth, and Corinth was proving to be quite the headache. In Corinth some of the new Christians (remember, NO ONE, anywhere, had been a Christian for more than 20 years!), began to see themselves as sort of “super-Christians,” certainly deeper and stronger in faith than many of those around them. Moreover, the “super-Christians” made it clear to the “less-strong-in-faith” that they had superior vibes. And so, they flaunted their faith.
One way they did that was in the eating of meat. Frequently, meat would be offered to one of the many Greek gods, and then consumed in a meal. That meant that you weren’t always sure about the burger you picked up. Maybe it had been offered to a false god first!
For the weak Christians, many of whom were very new in the faith, having only recently turned from worshiping those very false gods, that was a problem – a big problem. It nagged at their conscience, and even threatened to snuff out their fragile faith.
The strong, the “super-Christians” on the other hand, knew it was not only OK (the false gods were just a piece of stone, so no damage was done to the meat, or their faith), they made it clear it was their right as Christians to exercise their faith boldly. To eat the meat freely. To be freed from the imaginary power of false gods.
But the weak – what would it do to them, not only to eat the meat, but to see others eating the meat, meat which has been offered up to a profane and false god? What of their faith? What of their life?
That’s where Paul steps in. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul addresses this issue. Paul acknowledges that there is only one God, and that the gods they had once worshiped, really aren’t. Yes, they can have a power when we let them have it, but in the end… “for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6).
I imagine that those words brought a smile to the “super-Christians.” “See, we were right!”
If only they had caught the first verse of the chapter, where Paul says that “knowledge puffs up”…as if to say, “yeah, I know you know that you can eat the meat, but what’s that going get you?” On the other hand, Paul says that “love builds up.” Puffed up vs built up…
And then Paul gets to the heart of the matter. Paul says that the meat is of no consequence, that it doesn’t make any difference, and that they are freed to eat the meat. Then, however, he says:
“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak….
So by your knowledge [that you can, in fact, eat the meat] those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed.” (1 Corinthians 8:9,11)
“Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.” (1 Corinthians 8:13)
Paul’s point is that while they can eat the meat, it’s legal, it’s OK, and they are absolutely correct, it is still the wrong thing to do. For the sake of others, they ought to refrain. Because we are called to live for the sake of others!
That’s what Luther said too, remember? (If not, check out my reflection from June 28.) When discussing the appropriate response to the return of the Black Plague to Europe, Luther said that the faithful thing to do is that which protects oneself, yes, but even more so, protects one’s neighbor.
That is the point of mask-wearing. Not to protect myself, but to protect others. Yes, I have personal freedoms, and perhaps it is true that the Governor has overstepped legal bounds, but remember – this is not about legalities, or politics, or personal rights – this is a spiritual issue! It is about faithful living, as we hear Paul’s counsel and understand that we live not by ourselves, but in community.
In the end, there are no “pats on the back” at the Pearly Gates for preserving one’s personal liberty, but there will be a “well done, good and faithful servant” for protecting the lives of those around us (which, by the way, is what Luther says is part of obeying the Fifth Commandment.)
Of course, I know, there are those who will find this all very controversial, and may even deride me for taking a position on what they perceive to be a political or personal freedom issue. They are wrong. I’ve read Paul, and Luther, and I’ve listened to Jesus. This is about faithful living.
That means that regardless of the legal ramifications of the Governor’s order, the pronouncements of “we’re not doing anything” by local authorities, or even a court ruling to strike down the order, a higher authority calls me to something bigger – to live faithfully.
And so I’m wearing my mask, because right now, for the sake of my neighbor, this is the right thing to do.
You need to too.