I saw a video clip of a news reporter in Tennessee, giving details of a protest on the steps of the state capitol. The protesters were clamoring for the governor to reopen the state for business and let life return to normal, whatever that means in this COVID-19 world. Behind the reporter was a young man in his 20s, holding a sign. It said, "Let the weak die, Open TN (Tennessee)."
This young man's poster is an echo of other voices. The lieutenant governor of Texas said, "There are more important things than living, and that's saving this country for my children and grandchildren and saving this country for all of us." I agree lives may need to be sacrificed to preserve our freedom, but is it right to sacrifice a life to make sure we can all live comfortably? I have a hunch if the lieutenant governor was infected with coronavirus and hospitalized, he would not be saying, "Go ahead and let me die so the price of gas can go up."
Of course, it is easy to skewer politicians and protesters, but I have heard similar comments from everyday folks. "People are going to die from the flu anyway," someone told me the other day. Isn't it funny how it's easy to dismiss "people," but when it is my people, my grandmother, my dad, I think their life is precious.
Throughout history there is a vicious, ugly thought that rises: Some people are worth more than others. In the Ancient World, the world of the Bible, that was the way most people thought. Foreigners were enemies. Kill them, because their lives don't matter. Enslave them; all they are good for is hard labor. It was a brutal world, where survival of the fittest led to might makes right.
In Jesus' world, it was common for baby girls to be abandoned. Girls were not thought to be as valuable as boys. Sick relatives were often set out to die. No need trying to take care of the elderly; they could not work anymore. What value did they add?
Jesus, building on Jewish teaching, taught something radically different. He told a story about a shepherd leaving 99 sheep to go search for the one lost sheep. Bad economics, great shepherding. In that one Bible verse most people know, it is clearly stated, "For God so loved the world " Not just certain kinds of people. Not just certain nations. Not just the young and healthy. The world. Regardless of gender, nationality, orientation or age, God loves everyone who ever has or ever will exist.
Jesus followers in the first centuries after his resurrection put this into practice. They picked up the abandoned babies and loved them as their own children. They cared for the sick and the elderly. When persecuted for their faith, they were willing to die rather than adapt.
It is true that Jesus followers got a lot wrong as time went by. By the Dark Ages, people who called Jesus "Lord" would go to war in his name. They were not merciful. During the plagues that hit Europe, the sick were not always cared for. People reverted to practices of their ancestors and left the sick to die.
Still, it was the followers of Jesus who built orphanages and hospitals. Established on the teachings of their Lord, they cared for the "least of these." There is something about Jesus' clear instructions that the church cannot shake.
Regimes sprout up to challenge this value of human life from time to time. Not so long ago, people with dark skin were thought to be less than human and were enslaved. Native Americans were torn from their land in the name of economic progress. Hitler touted the superiority of the Aryan race and killed 12 million people. Some were Jews, others deformed, still others were political dissidents.
The greatest flaw when someone protests and says, "Let the weak die" is their failure to see themselves as weak. We all start as weak babies, needing care and nurture. Most of us will at some time get sick and need tender nursing. Many of us will get older, and in our final days, we will be weak. Someone will have to feed us and bathe us. We all either are weak or we will be.
Jesus followers believe Jesus came not for the strong, not for those who can fend for themselves, but for the weak and the meek. He taught us in the greatest sermon ever that until we admit our poverty, our weakness, our need for God, we will never find the strength we truly need. It is the strength, as the Apostle Paul said, that makes all things possible.
If Jesus came to help the weak - every one of us - do we dare turn to anyone and say, "Go ahead and die"? Aren't you glad God is better than that?
The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.
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