Demanding Our Rights Is Leaving the Path of Christ
As the coronavirus pandemic continues in northern California, I continue to hear people complaining about how wearing masks deprives them of rights. Sadly, it is the conservative Christians who seem to be the ones complaining about wearing masks, coupled with an unspoken undertone of being oppressed by those Democrats down in Sacramento. The problem is, the people of Christ should know better, because Jesus demonstrated a different path.
Jesus’ country was ruled by a despot, King Herod. He did not tolerate dissent; he jailed John the Baptist, a popular religious leader for speaking out against Herod marrying his brother’s wife. Herod, himself, was under the rule of Rome, which collected taxes by granting people taxation rights. These tax collectors were responsible for giving Rome a certain amount of money, but the possibility of collecting more than this was given as a perk to the tax collectors. Zaccheus had amassed enough wealth to give half of it to the poor—presumably he was planning on at least a reasonable living for himself after giving it away.
Furthermore, Israel felt that God had promised that they would be ruled by a son of David, a Messiah that would re-establish independence and fulfill the centuries-old promises that the God of Israel would be exalted and the nations would come to Israel. It was Israel’s right to have self-rule, and the Romans (through Herod) were the subjugators. There had already been several rebellions, and the “thieves” crucified with Jesus would better be translated as “insurrectionists”. Jesus’ own freedom was traded for that of an insurrectionist named Barabbas.
Jesus, himself, was the son of the Most High God. He was entitled the reverence, worship, and obedience due to God. Yet a sinful man baptized him in the river, the one man among all that John baptized who did not actually need John’s baptism of repentance. Jesus was relentlessly opposed by a religious establishment that cared more about their rules and their power than it did about the spiritual well-being of their flock. He was accused by a religious establishment jealous of his popularity and afraid that he would stir up the people to rebellion and thus cause Rome to remove what independence Israel still had. He was condemned by a Roman politician who valued expediency over justice—for Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, yet condemned him to a brutal death anyway.
Contrast this with the conservative Christians in northern California (by which I mean north of Sacramento, not “MidCal” as I consider the Bay Area to be). The area is fairly rural, with something like 700 cases total in this county. Yes, shutting down the economy—a good idea for megacities like the Bay Area or Los Angeles—probably caused unnecessary economic hardship here. Yes, the transmission rate here is already low, and with a major Level 1 trauma center hospital serving a region with a small population, we are not in grave danger of being unable to treat cases. But demanding a “right” to not wear a mask? Seriously?! Jesus was God and he did not demand his rights.
In Phil 2:6-8, Paul says that although Jesus was God, he did not use that to his advantage, but rather became a servant, humbled himself, and even obeyed God the Father in going to a painful death on the cross and being punished for our sins by being forsaken by God the Father—with whom he had intimate communion all his existence. Jesus himself said that he did not come to be served, but to serve.
I am not even convinced that we have a right to not wear a mask during a pandemic. If this were ebola, I bet the anti-mask crowd would be pretty upset with being in store with someone who refuses to wear a mask. My rights end where other people’s rights begin.
But even if we did have a right to not wear a mask, the path of Jesus would be to serve those around him. Those around us are afraid of getting a virus that is known to cause serious injury and death. But even if it were true that the virus is all a hoax or overblown or whatever Fox TV is saying today (and this is demonstratively not true, look at New York City), serving those around you would look like wearing a mask. Even if there were no virus at all and the people around you were afraid that other people’s breath would kill them, serving them would look like wearing a mask.
The early Christians went from being an obscure sect of an odd religion in a corner of the Empire to having 30% mindshare by the time Constantine made Christianity the official religion. One of things that made Christianity attractive was that Christians staying in the cities during pandemics and cared for the sick, often at the cost of their lives. The American Church has presided over a decrease from something like an 80% nominal mindshare of Christianity to 30% over the course of the past 100 years. We have left the path of Jesus.