To the editor:
I am troubled by a lot of the rhetoric around opposition to mask and vaccine mandates. And in my trouble, I turn to the Bible and to Jesus for perspective.
In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says: “Come to me, all you that are weary, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (NRSV). What is that yoke? In Luke 9:23, Jesus says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” That cross for me as I think of who Jesus was in his humanity means accepting ourselves as we are and how we exist as individuals living in society since He became like us in all things but sin including our suffering (Phil. 2:1-8). The author of the Letter to the Hebrews encourages us to follow the example of Jesus including learning from the discipline that comes from God, our parents, and a whole host of “witnesses” and which leads to healing and strength (Heb. 12:1-12).
The opposition to mask and vaccine mandates is based on their restriction on our individual freedom and human rights. The notion of “freedom” in this context seems to be the right simply to do as one might please without restriction or unreasonable regulation. However, as humans we only come to be as members of society who are of necessity going to be regulated to some extent by a rule of law that should be fair and equally applied. St Paul speaks to this issue: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’. If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another (Gal. 5:13-15). Paul goes on to contrast the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-26) and then encourages us to bear one another’s burdens. Although an individual responsibility, “whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all” (Gal 6:4-5,10).
Edwin F Gearhart, M.Div., Senior Warden, St Mark’s Episcopal Church