After a long career in talk radio that ended in February 2018, I heard the call to ministry in May of the same year. My wife and I lead a ministry serving two low-income, culturally diverse neighborhoods near downtown Green Bay. I am also a pastoral intern at Oakbrook Church in De Pere, preaching once a month.
As such, not only do I no longer opine on politics, I resist efforts to be drawn into personal conversations about politics. Our goal is to unite people under Christ.
I also tend to avoid reading political commentary of any stripe these days, but I did notice James Wigderson’s May 14 Right Wisconsin column on mask wearing when it popped up in my Twitter feed. I reached out to James and told him I was interested in writing on the subject from a faith-based perspective, aiming at a specific target audience: Christ-followers. (However, even if you’re not a believer you are invited to continue reading.) James said he was interested, so off we go.
Since March 23, the focus of our ministry has been delivering school district-provided meals to families who are unable to get to meal distribution sites. We started with me serving nine families in the neighborhoods we serve. We now serve more than 60 families around the Green Bay School District with the help of some two dozen volunteers.
All our volunteers are required to wear masks and gloves. This is predominantly for the protection of those we serve. I also have been wearing a mask anytime I go out where I am likely to encounter other people and I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Allow me to share the Biblical foundation for doing so.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)
The critical phrase in that passage is “as I have loved you.” So, how did Jesus love us? Two important examples. The first is the foot washing at the Last Supper.
You have 12 sets of feet that have shared muddy streets with sheep and cattle and other animals. Jesus washed all 24 of those filthy, disgusting feet, including the two that belonged to the man who he knew would, in just hours, betray Him. Ponder that: Sacrificial love required Jesus to wash Judas’ feet.
Now take another look at “as I have loved you” and compare what Jesus did with wearing a mask to protect someone else. Also remember that Jesus said how we love others is how everyone will know we are His disciples. Consider a mask a symbol of you loving others as Jesus loved; sacrificially and unconditionally. You’re doing something you’d rather not for total strangers.
Second, of course, is the crucifixion. Jesus suffered an unthinkably horrible death and as He was dying asked His Father, “forgive them for they know not what they do.” Take one more look at “as I have loved you” and compare that sacrifice to the inconvenience of wearing a mask to protect others.
I realize there are many people who don’t consider COVID 19 a serious health risk. I would ask you to consider what you don’t know. Imagine yourself as a clerk in a grocery or big box store. You are essentially in a people funnel. People are being poured at you constantly. You don’t know if they’ve been infected and they don’t know if you have an underlying respiratory condition that makes you high risk.
After an expert in the law said “love your neighbor as yourself,” the lawyer asked Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jews and Samaritans did not get along, yet a Samaritan was the hero of the story. Jesus’ point: everyone is our neighbor. That includes the person who does checkout at the grocery store.
Your response to this may be “but I have a right not to wear a mask if I don’t want to!” First, that’s not true in a store. They can make whatever rules they want. But let’s set aside that technicality for a moment and consider this from the Apostle Paul:
“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive. 1 Cor. 10:23 (NIV)
People are often surprised to learn that passage is in the Bible. The English Standard Version puts it this way: “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
When what you want to do conflicts with “As I have loved you,” you need to make a choice. Which will you make?
As Oswald Chambers put it, “Remember that you have been saved so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in your body…rise every time to whatever occasion may come your way.”
Jesus manifested in your body means always putting the interest of others first: always. Even if it means erring to the side of caution, in your mind. To paraphrase Bob Goff: when you love Jesus, you’ll love being last for everything. That includes getting your own way.
I leave you with Matthew 25:40 (NIV):
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
When I put on a mask before going out I do it for the protection of others. But I also I try to remember Who I am ultimately doing it for. I pray you will too.
Jerry Bader is Pastor of Faith by the Bay Ministries in Green Bay and a pastoral intern at Oakbrook Church, De Pere. You can follow his ministry on Facebook: @SPMinistriesGB.