At a recent staff meeting we were discussing the progression of vaccination across the country. A number of staff members shared conversations with people who had said, in effect, “I’m not getting the vaccine. Jesus will protect me.” I was reminded of an old story.
One day, a man looked out his window and saw that the nearby river was rising. He turned on his radio and found that sure enough, heavy rains were causing flooding. The announcement continued: “All people near the river should evacuate because the water is rising rapidly.” The man got on his knees and prayed: “Lord, save me from the floodwaters.” Then he made breakfast and read the paper.
As the water approached his door, a crew in a rescue vehicle came and offered him a ride out of the danger. He said, “No need. I prayed and God will save me.” As the water began to enter the house, he moved to the second floor. A boat came by and offered rescue. Same response. God would rescue him. Driven by the water up to the roof, he saw a helicopter fly over. The pilot hovered above the house and lowered a rope ladder. The man yelled, “No thanks. God will save me.” Soon the turbulent water swirled around him and he drowned. In death, the man stood before the Lord and cried out, “Why didn’t you save me? I prayed to you.” God said, “I heard your cry child. Before you prayed, I sent the radio announcement. Then I sent a rescue truck, a boat, and a helicopter to save you. Why didn’t you accept my help?”
If you pray for rescue, perhaps you should not be picky about the means of salvation.
The problem with the notion that we don’t need the “things of the world” - like a vaccine - to play a role in our healing, our salvation, our hope, is that it rejects a principal teaching of the Church about Jesus. Jesus was truly human. One-hundred percent human. Not just a little human; not just a spiritual being with a thin veneer of humanity. These notions were vociferously rejected in the early centuries of the Church. The incarnation means that God became human, one of us, and shared the totality of our existence. That includes illness. John says it this way: And the Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14) Paul announced that Christ,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death--
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)
In one of my favorite teachings about the messiness and humanity of Jesus, Augustine of Hippo taught:
Man’s maker was made man, that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that the Truth might be accused of false witness, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.
When Jesus got a cold, no doubt his mother gave him soup. When Jesus scraped his knee, no doubt there was aloe or some other herbal remedy nearby. While we cannot know if Jesus would take a vaccine because in his earthly context there were no vaccines, my guess is that he would have not only gotten the shots but encouraged others to do so as well. His healing ministry inspired the establishment of hospitals and medical schools, after all!
The truth is that for us, the most loving thing we can do for our neighbors is get vaccinated, wear a mask, be patient, and keep our distance. And Jesus was all about loving your neighbor. Right? Scripture teaches us how to follow Jesus: We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. I John 3:16-18
Little children get the shots for God’s sake, the sake of you your neighbor, for your own sake.
Pax Christi – Tim Olson, Lead Pastor
Augustine of Hippo, Sermons 184-229: Sermons on Liturgical Seasons (Edmund Hill O.P. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1993), 191.1.