By Rev. Meredith Gudger-Raines
The governor of Texas, who issued an order banning school districts in his state from requiring masks for students, has tested positive for Covid. He does not have symptoms, but he is starting an expensive and exclusive course of treatment anyway. This virus is serious when it happens to him, but for everyone else in his state, including the apparently unimportant children, he is content to not care.
Do you know what refrain I have heard repeatedly in the last weeks? “I’m only responsible for myself. I’m not responsible for you or others.” “You can wear a mask or get the vaccine if you want to, but I don’t want to.” “You take care of you; I’ll take care of myself.” Many people who have sung this refrain also sing praise songs on Sunday and proclaim Christian faith. As I was doing back-to-school shopping this week, I saw a family of a mom and four teenage children. They were all wearing T-shirts with scripture passages, and none of them were wearing masks.
As your friend who is also a public theologian, I have to tell you that this is antithetical to God as revealed in Jesus and the witness of scripture. This “I’ll take care of me, and you’re on your own,” is the opposite of the will of God.
There is a book in the Old Testament, or Hebrew Scriptures, called Judges. Do not read Judges when you’re already having a bad day. Things start out bad, and they get worse. There is a cycle in the book of Judges. Things go along okay, and then the people forget how they’re supposed to act and instead, “the people did what was right in their own eyes.” That is the refrain. They do what is right in their own eyes, for themselves, without a thought to anyone else or to the promise they made to God. The consequence of putting themselves first is always destruction and death.
I’m reminded that Jesus says, on the last night he has with his disciples before he gave himself up, that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. To live for others–that is love. To live for yourself … that is not love, not the love of God as revealed in Jesus or the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.
Writing this out feels a bit like a waste of digital space, like so much screaming in the wind. But to not say something, to not speak up for the way of the love, is to admit defeat, to let the way of God be corrupted and co-opted. As bad as things get in the book of Judges, God is always present, and the way of God is always an option. In fact, when the people suffer the awful consequences of doing what is right in their own eyes, they cry out to God and God remembers them. They remember the promise they made to God, to love God and God’s ways, and peace returns. Then the cycle repeats, and they forget, and they all do what is right in their own eyes.
The book ends with no resolution, but with an implied question to the reader: which will you choose? Will you follow the way of God, the way of love? Or will you forfeit your neighbor, take care of only yourself, and do what is right in your own eyes?