In Case of Emergency

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So here’s the crazy thing about following Jesus in a crisis, and maybe about following Jesus, period.

It matters now more than ever that we love, that we extend grace, that we show compassion to those around us.

People are hoarding toilet paper. “What the heckin’ heck?” as my daugter says. Some are behaving selfishly, ignoring warnings to maintain distance to help slow the virus’ spread. Politics are uglier than ever, constantly making me feel like I’m taking crazy pills, as those who downplayed the crisis yesterday now claim that they knew all along and have been saying for months how serious this is.

Today, right now, I am called to love these people. Yes, I want to mock the TP hoarders. But giving in to that part of my heart doesn’t increase my compassion. People are afraid. I know how that feels. I know that I don’t always make my best decisions  make crappy decisions when my emotions run away with me, whether fear, anger, or insecurity.

We’re now surrounded by fearful people. Probably we’re fearful, too.

Now, at this moment, Jesus is present in all of this. Not “I’ll pray and God will wave a hand and it will all go away” but “I’ll pray and God will give me peace that surpasses all understanding and I will love others even though this is hard for me, too.” The crazy thing about following Jesus is that the harder it is to love, the more Jesus calls us to love.*

Social distancing with smiles. What’s it matter if I smile at the people from whom I am keeping a constant six feet? It makes a difference. I know we’re all scared because it’s really starting to dawn on us that we’re not going back to “normal” in…whatever period of time we imaged we would. Offering people kindness and the tiniest gesture–yet the only gesture–of love available matters. Jesus said so. Jesus said cups of cold water for thirsty people matter.

I’m struggling even to find a strong enough word to describe the people whom, I recently learned, went through stores and bought out supplies like masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes, then turned around to sell them for a massive profit on Amazon or ebay. Or elected officials who reassured us everything was fine, then turned around and sold all their stocks just before the markets plunged. And those young and foolish people that someone keeps interviewing who say, “Whatever, I don’t care if I die, but I’m sure not going to let this stop me from partying!”

Yet how can I be surprised by this? Did I not know that you can’t serve two masters? (Luke 16:13) Is this the first I’m hearing that you will now a tree by its fruit? (Matthew 7:16-20) And “The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” (Proverbs 15:2). Yes, I have read that before.

We’re not in a new situation in terms of the battle within people’s hearts. We’re seeing exactly what we have seen, exactly what we’ll always see.

In Nicaragua, we realized that people living in poverty often have less of a veneer of civility because they don’t have the insulation and resources that help us sustain these. People from the U.S. living in Nicaragua lose our minds when we have to wait in crazy long lines and then still don’t accomplish what we needed to. Meanwhile, our neighbors were deciding between fixing the hole in the roof and buying groceries for the week–and it rains a lot there. We learned–the hard way–not to judge.

“But Mike, this is different. This is a pandemic!

Yes, it is different. Now it’s life and death for us, not just for them.

I’ve been shocked at people’s behavior, but I shouldn’t be. I don’t mean that cynically. I mean that as a Jesus follower, I should expect that desperate, fearful, uncertain times will tempt people to behave like–ready for this? Sinners. I’m not saying I should be casually indifferent to the evil I see. I’m saying that instead of shock, now is the time for grace.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think there should be consequences for people who buy up protective masks and price gouge for them so healthcare workers don’t have them. “Grace” here doesn’t mean look the other way or shrug it off. Grace means that I’m also sinful and broken and capable of hurting others, knowingly and willfully, when I let a voice other than Jesus’ direct me. Grace means God has forgiven me and therefore also wants to forgive them.

Grace stands out more when people become more selfish. That matters because it makes my choices all the more crucial and impactful. It means God’s love can shine through little things like smiles and–ready for this?--giving toilet paper instead of hoarding it.

We’re all trying to wrap our minds around this crisis. We’re all in a bit of shock that this temporary inconvenience is shaping up to be far different than that. I find myself reevaluating each day what all this means.

Now I’m guessing you’re tracking with me, but just in case anyone (obviously not you) is thinking, “But Mike, this is serious.”

Love is serious. Grace is serious. These aren’t frivolous extras we do when we have leisure and the surplus of resources to add them on top of getting all that we need. That may be so for those who regard religion merely as part of their cultural identity. But we know resurrection. We know that love, manifested in a man who is God, stands not against “those evil people” but with them…and with us. Jesus holds us all together.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in all of this, but I know Jesus. I know what I need to do, at least in general. My neighbor might go a little nuts, get a bit freaked out, maybe even do some awful things. But I understand that, because so have I, and God loves me. I need to love God and love my neighbor.

Just like always.

*“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36

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