Passing a man who could not see, who had been born without sight, Jesus’s disciples turned to the master and asked him, “Who did sin, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
“Neither,” the Lord answered.
Neither were to blame. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. The man wasn’t blind because he was bad, and he wasn’t blind because he was being punished, or because his parents had done something wrong. He was just blind.
Maybe there’s a lesson we can learn there.
Maybe we can be smarter than our ancestors were.
Because across cultures and across ages there has been a tendency among humankind to see sickness as the result of personal failing. Either something someone had brought upon themselves, and therefore deserved, or something which had been set upon them as a punishment from God.
Maybe we have done that to spare ourselves the anxiety of knowing their illness could befall us. If we pretend they did something wrong to get sick, then we need never fear getting sick ourselves because we are not the type to do something wrong.
But, for whatever the reason, we do it. We stigmatize and marginalize those who are ill, we blame them for what has befallen them. And we thereby distance ourselves from them, often leaving them to their sufferings and fears.
Which is just the opposite of what we ought to do.
We should meet others’ misfortune with compassion. We should reach out to them, not recoil from them.
We should see people who are ill as victims, not offenders. And even when a person’s choice may have contributed to their misfortune – the smoker who gets cancer, the drinker who gets addicted, the diabetic who neglects his diet – our response must still be compassion.
Not self-righteous lecturing.
Even if it’s covid.
Even if the president has told us those who don’t get vaccinated have brought upon themselves misery and death. Even if the nation’s doctor has told us that those who don’t get vaccinated should be excluded from family holidays.
Even if the temptation to superiority beckons us to see affliction as failing, to see the illness of others as the just deserts of their folly or choice.
We must resist the division of well versus ill, us versus them, the enlightened versus the benighted.
Not just for reasons of politics or social amity, but as a recognition of truth, and the realization that the rain does fall on the just and on the unjust, and that he who is well today may be ill tomorrow.
And because we must not make the disease deadlier than it is, we must not empower it to destroy families and friendships, loves and lives. We must see it as a pathogen, not use it as a weapon.
We must not let it come between us and our loved ones. We must not exclude anyone from the family circle because of a vaccine or a mask or a difference of view.
And we must resist the lies of government. During the 1918 influenza pandemic, the government said that illness struck those who were afraid, who could not control their emotions and be good, positive citizens. During the 2021 coronavirus pandemic, the government said that illness struck those who did not comply, who did not conform their behavior and choices to the repeated strains of the evening news.
Because that’s all crap.
People make choices, and medicine has answers, but sometimes people just get sick, and sometimes they just don’t. It is not a curse, it is not a blessing, it is the vagaries of biology, the happenstance of infection, the status of the receptors in one’s nose and the myriad drafts in a room. The struggles of one organism against another, and the struggles of the second organism to protect itself from the first. The principles of Darwin and Pasteur and Salk and Shope.
It’s just nature. It’s the way it is. It’s the incalculable randomness of fate.
And it is beyond our control.
And it is beyond the control of our neighbors, and our brothers and sisters.
The virus is our common foe, and it should be our common bond, even if we make different choices in regard to it.
People don’t get sick because they are bad, or because God is punishing them, or because they are different from us. People get sick because they are people, because we share a biology, spiritual and corporeal, that makes us vulnerable. And because we are all vulnerable, we should all be compassionate, knowing that where our brother walks, we may ourselves soon walk.
So, please, do not let this disease destroy and divide the tender relations of neighbors and kin. Do not shut your door or your heart against those of your blood or your community.
Jesus tended the lepers, and turned none away. Damien de Veuster and Marianne Cope alike cared for the lepers of Hawaii, humble followers of Christ, a priest and a nun, and one caught the disease and died and one did not. Yet both were blessed and both were right, and both were following where their Lord led.
While we recoil from an unvaccinated cousin or in-law.
Even at Christmas.
Which betrays our ignorance of both disease and divinity.
This life is more than the body, and the body is more than the immune system. And this is just a virus. It will come and go and do what it does.
And you can let it destroy your soul, or not. As you choose. And as you choose to treat others.
To lock them out, or welcome them in.