Commentary: Another plague? Or something different?

By Gordon E. Simmons

 This Sunday many (now online) churches will hear the story from the ninth chapter of John where some people brought to Jesus a man who was blind, and they asked, “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

 It was, in those days, an understandable question. People thought that every calamity, every hardship, every sickness, every defeat in battle was a punishment from God. Things didn’t just happen. They happened for a reason. And if it was something bad, then it must be because God was angry.

Gordon E. Simmons

 In the days when the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt, and bad things started to happen to the Egyptians, the people knew that it was no accident that the Egyptians’ land was invaded by locusts, or that the Egyptian cattle were all dying. These were acts of God.

 When the son of David and Bathsheba died as an infant, the parents knew it was because God was punishing them due to their act of adultery. When the mighty Babylonian army marched into Jerusalem and burned down the city, taking the Israelites off into exile for fifty years, the people were told that it happened because of their unfaithfulness.

 We still carry this attitude with us. When we get sick, really sick, we sometimes wonder “Why did this happen to me?” When our children don’t turn out the way we had hoped, we sometimes ask ourselves, “What did I do wrong?”

 And what did Jesus say to the question “who sinned”? He said, “No one sinned … neither this man nor his parents.” And Jesus proceeded to heal the man who had been born blind.

 So, one might ask: “Is this spread of the coronavirus a punishment from God?” “Have the people who are getting sick done something wrong?” “Are the nations suffering the most the ones who are most evil in the sight of God?” “Is the coronavirus another plague?”

 We know why this virus is spreading. We know about viruses and about how contagious they are. We know what happens when our bodies have no immunities against them. This is no longer a mystery.

 The question for us is not “Why did this happen?”

The question we need to ask is, “Now that it’s here, what should we do?”

 We can learn to be at home more … to spend more time with our families … to be quiet more … to know what it’s like to not be so busy. Maybe we’ll learn to like this lifestyle, and when the epidemic is over, we’ll be able to keep a little more of that new lifestyle outlook than we have in the past.

 Secondly, maybe we can learn to be more helpful to people in need.

There will be plenty of opportunities to do that in the weeks ahead….to keep in contact with friends and family members who can’t get out of their houses, or who need help with shopping or to get to doctor’s appointments, or who just need some encouraging words spoken over the telephone.

Surely, in these days God wants us to reach out to people in need, the most vulnerable, the ones most alone. In these difficult days, we need each other.

 There will be casualties along the way, hearts broken, suffering to experience.

But we will make it through this. There will be an end to this epidemic. We will endure.

Gordon E. Simmons is interim pastor at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Dover, and is Public Policy Officer for the Delaware Lutheran Office for Public Policy.