Letter 7: Masked and Vaxxed for Jesus
A Texas school district closed for a week following the death of two teachers from COVID-19.
An unvaccinated elementary school teacher in California took off her mask to read a story and infected half of her class.
A week into the school year, over 100 students in a Pennsylvania junior high school were in quarantine due to COVID.
The parable of the Judgment of the Nations (Mt 25:31-46) is a pretty salient passage for... well... a lot of topics. Among them, the above-described state of the ongoing COVID pandemic. Here's the verse for reference:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’
Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’
He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’
And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
A classic. Up there with the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) and the New Commandment (Jn 13:34) in terms of moral guidance.
Fast forward to present-day 2021 where we have an ongoing pandemic. And lest we forget, this pandemic is global, not isolated to the United States (though it can be easy to forget that a world, let alone a country, exists outside of our community bubbles). A friend recently recalled a biology professor of theirs theorizing back in 2006 that due to hyper-globalization, pandemics would occur every few years as opposed to every hundred. With near total dependency on international trade for most every aspect of modern industry and business, and with the ubiquity of airplane travel for both work and leisure, nothing exists in isolation - not your dish soap, not your cash money, not the air you breathe. The faster and more frequently we travel, the faster and more frequently illnesses spread. (If you'd like a nice graphic representation of the history and projections for COVID on both a global and country-by-country level, check out IHME's interactive database.)
Amidst this chaotic bustle is another haunting reality: the entire population under 12 years old is ineligible for vaccination.
Yes, that "under 12" population - the one that comprises the majority of preK - 8th grade students.
When I read about the number of people who still refuse to get vaccinated,
the number of people who defiantly protest governors' mask mandates,
the rising number of children hospitalized due to COVID and other respiratory illnesses,
I think to myself,
"What is so hard about getting a vaccine, when it could keep you out of the hospital, thereby keeping a bed open for a cancer patient or a car crash victim?"
"What is so hard about wearing a mask, when it could prevent a child - who literally cannot get a vaccine yet - from contracting and spreading the virus?"
I'm not a large person. My 5-foot-something frame only has so much space for brain pacing before my head explodes. So I have to pause, breathe, and try to process. Grounding myself in faith is one way I regain a sense of levelheadedness while also being inspired and motivated.
And it is at this point where allegory arises, and we return to the parable of the Judgment of the Nations, but the 18th-month-of-the-COVID-19-pandemic version:
"For I was immunocompromised, so you also got a vaccine;
I was ineligible for vaccination, so you wore a mask;
a stranger and you did not blame me for a virus;
a child and you took precautions for my safety;
ill and you kept hospital beds open for me through vaccination and mask-wearing;
in prison and you advocated for my compassionate release."
Then the righteous will answer and say, "Lord, when did we see you immunocompromised and get vaccinated, or ineligible for vaccination and wear a mask? When did we see you a stranger and not blame the pandemic on you, or a child and take precautions for you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and advocate for your wellbeing?"
And the Lord will say to them in reply, "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least children of mine, you did for me."
This letter may fall on eyes not yet ready to bend from conviction, but I prayerfully hope that this parable parallel will not be dismissed. The only way we will expedite reaching the endemic stage of this virus is to act out of selflessness, out of consideration for others. (Plus the pope is encouraging us to get vaccinated as an act of love, so... *please?*)
Lord, please help us remember how blessed we are,
that this is not a "me" thing, but a "Jesus and us" thing.
May our hearts be filled with gratitude for science,
humility toward epidemiologists,
and a desire to serve the least of God's children
through the simple, selfless acts of
vaccinations and mask-wearing.