I am not a bible scholar, an epidemiologist, or a scientist. I’m simply a writer who has been immersed in biblical history and literature for most of my life, and who has done a lot of reading and writing about COVID for work.
For me, a fascinating study during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the Old Testament laws for cleanliness and hygiene, which I studied at least four different times when I was younger. Some of them seem a bit extreme but many of them are common sense measures we see in use today. Things like washing yourself, isolation and cleansing after exposure to dead bodies and certain kinds of illnesses, and washing or discarding contaminated garments and items are all found in the Old Testament.
Moving through history to the Black Plague, we learn that one of the reasons the Jews were blamed for the plague was because they were less affected by it than others, due to the rules for health and hygiene that they followed. If you’re not affected by it, you’re obviously the cause of it, right? There were other issues going on as well, I’m sure, such as people being prejudiced walnuts, but that was one contributing factor for why they were blamed.
This is something I’ve been musing on during the pandemic.
There’s a popular question I hear in church communities. “What would Jesus do?”
I’ve always struggled with this question because it is often asked in situations where we don’t have the information to be able to say, and we can run the risk of shaping Jesus into our own image and expectations. But it is a good question to make oneself think.
So, I asked it in this situation.
I imagine Jesus would wash his hands and stay home if he was sick, and would probably wear a mask if he had one. Jesus would love people regardless of their beliefs, their social standing, and their health issues. Jesus would feed those in need and comfort the hurting and take care of the people around him.
I imagine that during COVID, you would see Jesus volunteering at homeless shelters and soup kitchens. You would see him picking up groceries for shut-ins and talking with them from a safe distance. You would see him organizing online book clubs and movie nights and helping remote students with their classes. You would see him calling his neighbors and family, just to check in. You would see him out taking long walks, and it would seem like the day got a little bit better just for seeing him. You would see him writing letters to folks in nursing homes and others in isolation.
I imagine that you would see his eyes, bright and alive and holy, smiling over a mask or face covering, as he thanks the grocery store clerk and tells her that he hopes she has a good day. You would meet him on the road, helping a stranger change a flat tire. You would see him spending his weekend building a wheelchair ramp for someone in the community who’s disabled.
I imagine you would see him as a member on the volunteer fire department, first on the scene for an elderly woman who fell down the stairs. You would hear the tenderness in his voice as he helped her, and she might say that the pain eased when he came. You would see him working in a blizzard, helping lost and stranded people find their way home again.
I imagine that you would see him raging against companies who place profits over human lives. You would see him fight against a system that causes harm when it should bring help and relief. You would see him challenge the oppressors and stand up for those who cannot stand for themselves. You would see him do whatever it took to make sure that the elderly, the infirm, and the weak are not excluded or forgotten.
I imagine you would see him bring light, and hope, and healing into the sick rooms and hospitals. You would see him hold the hands of the lost and hurt and grieving. You would hear his footsteps between the beeping of monitors and the noise of ventilators. You would see him rejoice with each recovery and mourn with each death.
I imagine that you would see the kindness and compassion in his face, in his hands, in the way he lives his life. You would witness a joy so strong that sometimes it hurts. You would see a man who loves fearlessly and relentlessly. Though he would not risk the health of others, you would see him risk his own health for those in need.
I asked myself, what would Jesus do?
And I asked, what must I do?
A special thanks to my family members who encouraged me to share this. This writing is as much for myself as for anyone else. I understand that everyone has different beliefs and am not suggesting that I have all the answers or that I am an expert in biblical history and literature, Jewish culture, epidemiology, or other subjects; I am, at the end of the day, just a writer.
With love, Annie