I am not trying to put lipstick on a pig. (Do pigs even have lips? I wouldn’t know; my familiarity with pigs comes principally from the refrigerated meat section at the grocery store.) Nonetheless, I see one healthy thing coming out of the losses of the Covid-19 pandemic.
We constantly hear these days that we are in this together, that we must take precautions to protect ourselves and others—particularly the more medically vulnerable. We have been told to wear non-medical-quality masks not to protect ourselves but to protect those around us. Most of us are caring for one another, and in doing so we are protecting ourselves as well.
When I go for my daily walks, I experience a version of what we, as children, called freeze tag. I come upon someone, and we both freeze silently negotiating who will go which direction to maintain proper social distancing. It is a way of accommodating and caring for one another and our broader community.
We have realized in these difficult times that we are responsible for one another’s wellbeing.
This has always been true. We had forgotten it out of greed; we had denied it out of selfishness; we had ignored it out of laziness. Like Cain, sin has been lurking at our door. Its desire was for us; and we did not master it. It mastered us. We, like Cain, convinced ourselves that we are not our neighbor’s keeper, close at hand or distant neighbors (Genesis 4:7-9).
Whenever we say “me and mine first” and do not balance the needs and wellbeing of others with our own, we like Cain have been mastered by sin.
The challenges of pandemic have made vivid again what has always been the case.
I return often these days to the observation of Stephen L. Carter: “The illusion that we travel life alone is ruining us all” (Civility—Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy, p. 8). Carter calls this illusion incivility. To be civil is to acknowledge and act upon our inevitable connectedness to one another. This is also Christian behavior. The pandemic has made vivid that none of travels alone.
The president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, wrote:
Dear Fellow South African,
We must not let this lesson be forgotten. Some have already, in light of our recent experience, advocated for the pursuit of even narrower self-interest. They still think we travel alone through this world.
Jesus, when asked what is the most important priority in living one’s life, answered: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt 22:37-40)."
The first commandment presumes an awareness of the second commandment. The second commandment, although principally a moral exhortation grounded in the love of God, may also be a practical observation. In loving our neighbor. we are in a way loving ourselves. We are all traveling on the same bus. What affects one passenger will inevitably affect the others.
This has always been true. Lately we have been reminded of it in tragic ways.
Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches of