It is now month five for Canadian communities struggling with the COVID-19 crisis. In this time, we’ve heard many pronouncements by health authorities on what members of the public should and should not do to protect themselves against the novel coronavirus. As it spreads, health experts continue to research and learn, experiment and make recommendations. As the weeks stretch on, some instructions have changed; some of them have been downright confusing.
Recently, Waterloo Region, where I live, instituted a community-wide order requiring residents to wear face coverings in all indoor public places and in all public transportation areas. For some of us, this will mean continuing with our usual practice. But, for others, this is a new and constricting order.
Here’s how health experts explain the benefit of wearing masks. Person A and Person B both wear simple protective masks over their noses and mouths. Outcome: both are shielded from droplets that spread the coronavirus. If only Person A wears a mask, Person B still has some protection. Health professionals tell us that—contrary to what one might think—the mask offers the highest protection for the person nearby, not for its wearer. By covering her face, Person A is primarily shielding her neighbour.
This kind of mask doesn’t appear in the Bible, and yet this concept seems so biblical. Consider what Jesus calls the second greatest commandment: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31, NRSV). He was harking back, of course, to an ancient teaching by the highest authority, “I am the Lord, and I command you to love others as much as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, Common English Version).
Here’s a straightforward health order: You and I are commanded to love our neighbour. In this time of contagion, practices such as washing one’s hands, keeping physically distant and wearing a mask are ways people of conscience express caring to those around them.
I am grateful for those in my life who heeded this commandment—for my daughter, daughter-in-law and work colleague who all showed love by giving me cloth masks. When I don one of those masks, that act of caring spreads to everyone else nearby, neighbour and stranger alike.
There are reasons why the wearing of masks might be problematic. For some people, pre-existing breathing difficulties make mask-wearing impossible. For those with hearing loss, communication through an opaque mask is difficult. Cognitive and mental health challenges present an obstacle for some. But for the majority of Jesus’ followers today, wearing a mask is an order we can follow.
Some of us balk at following orders. A cloth over one’s nose and mouth can get uncomfortable. Plus, it our right, we believe, to choose what we wear.
You have heard it said, “It’s my life and I will choose how I live it.” But, during this global health crisis, focusing on one’s own rights misses the point. Jesus’ command is simple: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” In other words, wear a mask.
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