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Jesus and the great mask debate – worst meme, best advice

Jesus and the great mask debate – worst meme, best advice August 30, 2021

Let’s talk about Jesus and masks.

You know how some people have friends that span the political and ideological spectrum, and they always have the most lively Facebook debates? Yeah, you know.

So one of my eclectic friends (I’ll call him Tony) posted this:jesus mask

When we use our Christian platform to suggest that wearing a mask for the sake of others is asking too much of us, we are trivializing the Christian idea of sacrifice, and the very idea of Jesus’ sacrifice.

I agree with the statement, but didn’t engage in the debate – I did eavesdrop, however.

When someone – we’ll call him George – posted this meme, I couldn’t stay silent:

jesus mask

“Excuse me,” I commented, “what makes you think Jesus would not wear a mask? If you truly know this about him, in which chapter and verse do you find evidence?”

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George on Jesus and masks

George answered by quoting Matthew 11:4-6, Luke 10:19, Mark 16:17-18 – passages about Jesus’ ability to heal, and the signs that would follow believers, including healing, playing with serpents, and drinking poison without being harmed.

He went on:

“Jesus and the disciples were not worried about their health. They were too busy healing others, including lepers!…How sad when we’re arguing masks and distancing instead of moving in His authority and power!”

In another comment, he said,

“Would Jesus and His disciples have stayed home?…Doesn’t God give us power over all of the power of the enemy (Lk 10:19)? Didn’t Jesus give us power to heal the sick (Matt 10:1, 8; Acts 3:1-10)?!…How very sad that we are powerless at a time when we can be demonstrating God’s power and drawing all men unto Him!”
Later, he addressed Tony,

“I love you, my brother, but the enemy has blinded even the elect on this whole matter.”

And last,

“[H]alf of the population is blinded…I know [this] from 2 positions: (1) honest medical doctors, scientists and medical experts who have no conflict of interest – $$$, and (2) God speaks to me and gave me His direct input.”

I’ve seen videos of random people who talked like this, but never came across anyone in my semi-actual (i.e. Facebook) life until now.

Part of me wants desperately to say something sarcastic and withering, but I won’t – for two reasons: George would receive it as persecution and consider himself blessed; and also because I want to actually engage with Georges, not immediately alienate them. Treat them with respect, as I want to be treated.

Will it work? Probably not. Is it a waste of time? Intelligent dialogue is never a waste of time – and I believe the Georges of this world are intelligent.

Not a binary

George, you said, “the enemy has blinded even the elect on this whole matter,” and “half of the population is blinded” (I’m guessing you’re referring to the vaccinated half). You have neatly divided the population into two groups: the Right and the Wrong. And you put yourself in the Right group. That’s something we all tend to do, and we tend to make rightness an all-or-nothing affair.

I’d like to suggest that maybe this issue is not binary. Isn’t it possible that both sides have some good points, some good sources, and some good conclusions? By the same token, maybe we both have some weak points, weak sources, and poor conclusions.

Here’s a corollary : none of us really knows whether Jesus would wear a mask. We don’t know what Jesus would do in a pandemic.

We like to think Jesus would behave just like us because we like to think we’re right. But that’s a pretty brazen assumption, so we flip the script and say we’re behaving like Jesus – without actually knowing how Jesus would behave.

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The danger of certainty

George, your certainty might feel to you like bold faith, but is it, really? When you claim you “know” what Jesus would do in this context, you appear neither humble nor teachable – and those are key elements of Christian faith.

I’m not saying you’re outside God’s will just because I happen to disagree with you – but that your certainty might be a troubling sign. A couple of examples from Scripture:

  • Jesus scolded the Pharisees throughout his ministry for burdening people with rules that weren’t from God. They thought they were in God’s will, but they never self-evaluated. They were so far outside God’s will that Jesus called them “blind guides” and “generation of vipers” (Matt. 23). They never did listen.
  • Simon Peter screwed up again and again. When Jesus scolded him, he listened. Thankfully, Peter had the humility to recalibrate again and again.

If you feel that God is teaching you directly, as you said, then Jesus’ life and words are no longer your guide.

We are not Jesus – we are Jesus’ disciples. We want to become more and more like him. We must be teachable.

Criticism can be useful

The fact that you and other anti-maskers/anti-vaxxers are being criticized – not just here, but everywhere – is a sign that you should examine your position, not dig in your heels. Listen to your critics and search the Scripture. Maybe a tweak is necessary (likewise, we pro-maskers/pro-vaxxers need to constantly hold up our beliefs to Scripture).

That’s humility, that’s being teachable. None of us should assume we’ve arrived at a permanent state of wisdom.

Keep in mind American Christians’ track record. We’ve been dead wrong many times, and very slow to correct our errors. Recall (for starters) our support for the genocide of Native Americans, and the enslavement, lynching, and degradation of black human beings. Knowing our utter failure in these arenas, we ought not be too self-assured. Ever.

Power

George, you seem to really yearn for Jesus’ power to be revealed in miraculous ways. You speak with great fondness of snake-handling and poison-drinking and “power over all the power of the enemy.” You seem to be big on the Wow Factor – flashy miracles that would draw all people to become Christians.

A few points from Scripture to consider:

  • According to Matthew 13:58, Jesus’ miracles didn’t generate faith, but followed after faith.
  • Jesus never turned away a leper who asked for healing. But we have no record of him going to the leper colonies and healing everyone. 
  • The bulk of his ministry was spent in teaching and modeling servanthood. One might even say “he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:7). Power – the Wow Factor – was not Jesus’ primary M.O.

If you believe Jesus was God Incarnate, then of course he would have been impervious to infection anyway, so he wouldn’t need a mask or a vaccine. But “doesn’t need a mask” isn’t the same as “refuses to wear a mask.”

In fact, we know that sometimes Jesus obeyed rules even though he didn’t need to. For example, in Matthew 17, Jesus complied with the Temple tax, even though he did not believe he was required to pay it, so as not to offend.

Bottom line, we can’t be sure how this servant-teacher/miracle worker would have responded to Covid-19.

We can at least admit that to one another. Nobody needs to say, “if you disagree with me, you don’t know Jesus.”

One way to be a humble disciple of Jesus in Covid-19

So for all the Georges out there who don’t want to wear a mask or get a jab, how might you “love your neighbor as yourself“?

How about these ideas:

  • Stay in your house until your neighbor gets sick, then put on a mask and walk to your neighbor’s house. Heal him in the name of Jesus, then put your mask on and go back home.
  • Want to go shopping? Out to eat? To the gym? Wear a mask, humbly, not because you think it works, but because the majority of the people really want you to wear it. Because your individual preferences are not more important than those of the majority. Because people who think differently are not automatically stupid.
  • If you feel the power of God welling up inside you, put on a mask and go volunteer at a hospital.
  • If you think masks are stupid and pointless, you are entitled to that opinion. But you are not entitled to consider it a fact, and you are not entitled to disobey rules that protect others. You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not welcome impose your doctrine of certainty on us. Want to be a rebel? Drive without a seatbelt.
  • If you think all of us vaxxed/masked folks are making each other sick, then leave us to it. Don’t come among us. Then, when one of us gets a breakthrough infection, you can blame it on us.

Do not tell us we’re weak Christians.

Do not tell us we don’t know Jesus.

Tell us you disagree with us, but don’t tell us we’re wrong.

Don’t tell us you have a corner on truth. For your own sake and the sake of everyone around you, be humble.


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