I Corinthians 6:12
I Corinthians 8:9
Masks required. Remain in your vehicle as you wait to pick up your child. Vaccination mandates. Fasten your seatbelts. No smoking. Pull over to the inside curb.
I don’t always do well at following rules. I try, but it’s not easy for me. Even as a kid, I struggled with rules and following directions in schoolwork. Sometimes it was because I didn’t completely understand the directions and other times, I simply didn’t want to. I was stubborn then, and I’m a tiny bit stubborn now. The Lord and I are working out this rebellious streak.
The psychological and sociological theories behind rule following have fascinated me throughout this pandemic, and I have had to pause and ask myself what is going on? For example, if mask wearing is a “strong recommendation,” but not mandated, why do I gladly leave my face covering in the car? Because any mask is uncomfortable and fogs my glasses. Why did I wait so long to get my covid vaccine? I had several excuses, all of which were unsubstantiated. Another example are the signs posted in the parking lot of my son’s elementary school that clearly instruct drivers to remain in your vehicle while waiting in the pick-up line once school is over for the day. Yet every week, I’m shaking my fists at other moms and dads who abandon their parked vehicle to go inside the building and get their kid. It’s obviously easier and faster, but it’s also a selfish choice because you force the drivers of the cars behind you to wait even longer. An email was sent to parents requesting that all vehicles pull over to the inside lane closest to the curb when picking up and dropping off their child to ensure safety. And yet I scoffed at this for the very same reason parents leave their vehicles. If I obey this rule, I will need to exercise greater patience while I wait for other drivers to let me into the outer lanes to leave the property. Oh help me Jesus. None of us want to make the more difficult choice of waiting patiently.
Rules and directions are important, of course. They are made for our safety and protection. Most of us have a fierce sense of injustice when we see others who appear to have no accountability for consequences from breaking rules, guidelines or laws.
Jesus dedicated his life to following the rules of Holy living, despite living among humans indulging in sin. The Pharisees and the Sanhedrin created their own rules and amendments to the Ten Commandments that made authentic Christian living seem legalistic and oppressive. In God’s kingdom following rules, or obedience, gives us freedom. God created rules to help us live in peace and harmony with one another and the natural world. What is our reward in following rules like thy shalt not covet? Or love your neighbor as yourself? Goodwill and healthy relationships with your neighbor? The Old Testament Laws of Moses were created because behavior mattered first. Jesus came to fulfill the law, but then went a step further to teach us that our attitude matters as well. In John 8: 1-12, a group of angry priests thrust a woman caught in adultery at Jesus, hoping to stump him with the Old Testament Law of Moses that required stoning of anyone caught in this sinful act. They conveniently overlooked the fact that to actually fulfill the law, they needed the man she was with and that both parties required stoning. Scripture is silent on where he was. Did Jesus say “good work, gentleman?” Nope. Did he sneer and say to the humiliated woman, “If you had followed the law intended for the Hebrews, sweetheart, you could have avoided a mob of self-righteous men trying to stone you.” Nope. Instead, he very gently said, “stop this unbecoming behavior.” To the men, harsher words because they needed an attitude adjustment. “He who is without sin may cast the first stone.” In other words, back off boys, because you are just as guilty as she is.
What’s our attitude toward following rules? Are we legalistic? Quick to find fault and judge those who make different choices than we would? Do we obey out of duty and obligation, or out of joy and love for one another in Christ?
“I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial. I have the right to do
anything” – but I will not be mastered by anything.” (I Corinthians 6:12). Here, Paul was instructing new believers in not abusing their newfound freedom in Christ. “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak,” Paul cautions in I Corinthians 8:9. This instruction was originally given regarding eating food that was originally sacrificed to idols. Some new believers were vulnerable to sin in their new faith if they knew they were eating food consecrated for idols. Other, more mature believers understood that food was food and it didn’t matter who it was originally prepared for. Paul was saying that sensitivity needs to be exercised to newer believers that they might not fall into sin. To me, in pandemic mode, this means sensitivity needs to be exercised to those with weaker immune systems. If the CDC, state law and a business owner mandate mask wearing, I will comply with a cheerful attitude for the sake of protecting someone else, even if I am fully vaccinated and healthy. I will follow the rules. I have also gratefully accepted my covid vaccine to do my part in helping protect others with pre-existing health conditions. I will follow science. I also pull over to the curb to pick up my son after school, grateful that the administration cares this much about the safety of every child. But none of these choices makes me morally superior.
And yet, for some, I know that freedom is best experienced without a mask or vaccine. Who is following the rules and who isn’t? Do we sit in harsh judgement when we learn of the more severe cases of covid-19 among the unvaccinated? Do we sneer that they weren’t wearing masks or harrumph that they chose against the vaccine?
Our job as believers is to show mercy and compassion – especially to those who we think are breaking the rules, being selfish, or stubborn. Jesus touched lepers, spoke kindly to prostitutes and shared meals with tax collectors, some of the most despised of the population of his day, and not to condone them, but to offer a better way of living. Salvation. He broke through the glass ceiling of man-made rules to demonstrate love and forgiveness to those who needed it most. He will also deliver consequences and exercise judgement over all sin, according to His timing. Perhaps he already is.
As I write this, members of the school board from my son’s school are currently meeting to debate over reissuing mandatory mask wearing for the fall semester. If the mandate is issued, I am more than happy to comply. Mask wearing doesn’t always prevent the spread of Covid-19, but it works wonders in blocking the common cold, the sniffles and the flu. By the way, I’m encouraging all my readers to get the flu shot ASAP as well.
Dear Heavenly Father
Help us develop greater compassion for those who make different choices than us, and help us develop greater sensitivity for the vulnerable among us. Help us remember that our response and attitudes to the pandemic is more important than pandemic itself.