“Loving our neighbour” in a pandemic 

In the early stages of the pandemic the most loving thing to do was “flatten the curve,” meaning obey all the government virus regulations so the hospitals wouldn’t be overwhelmed. 

Then came the catchphrase, “superspreader” events, where the most unloving thing to do was gather in a large crowd without masks and social distancing. When vaccines then became available the priority changed to being vaccinated as the best protection for the vulnerable and for the safety of the community in general.  

So there’s been an underlying desire and push to love one’s neighbour when deciding what actions to take personally. 

But then the rather disturbing news surfaced that even a double dose of vaccine did not stop a person being infected or being infectious.   

In love to one’s neighbour, therefore, it begged the question, “Is there anything else we can do, then?” If medical science has reached its limit at present in how to fully protect ourselves and others in times of highly contagious diseases, where else do we turn for help? 

Well, the nation that immediately took the lead in heading off and dealing with the Covid virus was Israel. Which isn’t surprising, because for many centuries Israel took what God had to say about contagious diseases seriously.  

Are there some clues, then, in the history of Israel in the Old Testament, in what to do when a contagious disease hits and the community is at risk? Yes, there are, provided for us by Moses, the very first public health official we know of whose medical education was taught to him by God himself.  

With that kind of credential to his name it gives Doctor Moses considerable credibility in the world of medical science. So, when he tells us it’s crucial with a communicable disease to quarantine, as he does in Leviticus 13:46, we’ve got a solid starting point. And as one Jewish website states, “we’re old hands at dealing with quarantines,” which sounds plausible, because the Jews have probably practiced quarantining longer than any other nation on earth. 

Quarantine is a place of isolation for an infected person until he or she is no longer contagious. And as a youngster in English boarding schools this was the practice I grew up with when a virus ripped through the school. A separate building on campus was set aside for quarantine and caring for the sick, while life went on as normal in the rest of the school; no locking down the entire school, and no masks or social distancing. 

Nor were they required in ancient Israel either. The sick were quarantined in care outside the camp, but life for the rest of Israel went on as usual. A mask was only worn by the contagious as an indication to others to steer clear of them (Leviticus 13:45). Those who weren’t contagious did not wear masks.    

So, when thinking about our governments wanting to keep everyone safe and focusing on caring for our neighbours, we have a solid starting point for doing that from Scripture as well. Because Scripture too is talking about taking our personal responsibility seriously, in going to a place of quarantine if we have any of the typical symptoms of a contagious disease. Ideally that would mean going to a separate building provided by our local community for quarantining the sick and caring for us until we’re better, or if that isn’t possible then willingly isolating ourselves until the symptoms have cleared.     

But that’s just the starting point. Should we also, in love for our neighbours, be willing to risk our lives for their safety too?….

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