By Greg Burch Ph.D., Director of M.A. in Global Development and Justice and Karen Fancher, D.Int.St., Assistant Professor in Global Studies and M.A. in Global Development and Justice
This season of isolation and uncertainty provides a unique opportunity to reflect upon our lives as followers of Jesus. In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus sums up the law and prophets in a call to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Expressing love for our neighbors may be demonstrated in a multitude of ways such as:
- freely relinquishing freedom and economic security to protect those who are most vulnerable;
- compassionately engaging with those who respond in disparate manners as they experience unique economic, social, and health impacts of the pandemic;
- refusing to protect our interests at the expense of others;
- affirming our interconnectedness, seeking the well-being of those near and far (culturally and geographically)–thus committing to help the most vulnerable in this world, including refugees and those without access to health care;
- expressing gratitude and kindness during stress and uncertainty;
- and seeking the Holy Spirit to align our hearts with the heart of God.
Loving our neighbor during COVID-19 reminds us to embrace the compassion of Christ with wisdom and careful action.
One example of this wise compassionate action is seen in the following letter. Martin Luther wrote the following in a 1527 letter, to his friend Rev. Dr. John Hess, as the deadly bubonic plague hit the town of Wittenberg:
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
There is wisdom in ensuring that we do not put people at risk because of our carelessness.
Sometimes loving our neighbors means staying inside, self-isolating, and using technology to reach out to our friends and neighbors. Sometimes it involves taking wise, calculated risks, in loving our neighbors, without putting other people at risk. For those who are essential personnel in social services, healthcare, and other first-responders, they are on the front lines serving people at great cost, but not everyone is in that position. For those of us who are not essential front-line responders, we still have opportunities to support and care for the most vulnerable in our communities.
As an example, some Multnomah students affiliated with the Global Development and Justice (MAGDJ) program launched the 10% Campaign to care for vulnerable people in our communities. Following the lead from their professor, Dr. Leroy Barber, the students are focused on supporting refugees, undocumented families, houseless populations, and others that are facing significant challenges right now. Take, for example, one family that received some of the gift cards associated with the grocery gift card campaign. This family consists of a single mother with four children. The mother is no longer working due to being laid off. She was working in two different restaurants, 4-5 hours a day at each location—a total of 8 to 10 hours, six days a week before the Covid-19 outbreak. Her family is being cared for through this campaign and other social services being provided by a community-based organization.
Whether it be sewing masks, donating our time and resources, or providing direct care through social services, now is the time to love our neighbors with compassionate wise action. Jesus himself reminds us, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Ultimately, loving our neighbors is a response that flows from our hearts to those around us, reflecting the gracious compassionate love of Jesus and our hope in a kingdom that is not of this world. May God continue to teach us to walk in the footsteps of the One who is perfect love.
For more on the 10% campaign and what some of our Multnomah students are doing, see https://tenpercentcampaign.weebly.com