Okay, I’ve had my first CO-VID vaccine shot. Reactions from friends ranged from:
- “Why did it take you so long?” to
- “Why put something like that into your body?”
I was slow off the mark because here in Western Australia we’re so socially isolated already that it made sense to let others go first (medical staff, quarantine workers, aged care staff, people in the eastern states).
To answer the second question, let me tell you a story.
135 years after Jesus was killed and rose to life, while Christianity was still an insignificant faith among the religions of the Roman Empire, an epidemic of smallpox hit Rome. A quarter of the population died, from the lowest slave to Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
In the face of the fear that gripped the city, one group shone as a light in the dark. Here’s how John Orberg describes it in Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012):
But there was in that world a community that remembered they followed a man who would touch lepers while they were unclean; who told his disciples to go heal the sick, who got in arguments at dinners that embarrassed whole tables. Dionysius, a third-century bishop of Alexandria, wrote about their actions during the plagues: “Heedless of the danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need, and ministering to them in Christ. And with them departed this life serenely happy, for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors, and cheerfully accepting their pains.”
Read now what might be familiar words: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me…. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
The idea that “the least of these” were to be treasured — that somehow the Jesus that they followed was present in despised suffering — was essentially a Copernican revolution of humanity. It created a new vision of the human being. People actually took Jesus at his word.
As Christian communities responded to the hungry and the sick, even outsiders took notice. By the late fourth century, an opponent of the faith, Emperor Julian the Apostate, chastised pagan priests for not keeping up: “I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by the priests, the impious Galileans observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence…. The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.”
Followers of Jesus gave practical help, even when it cost them their own lives. It helped establish Christianity as a credible faith, a faith that works, a faith that serves others.
My vaccination won’t make much difference, but the more of us who get the jab, the more resilient our community can be. The risk for me personally is ridiculously low. The benefit for the community makes the decision a no-brainer if I’m not living for myself but for the king who gave his life for the community.