I have called my mother more often because of the Coronavirus situation in Korea. I have been extremely nervous about her health. Unfortunately, her home church pastor ignored the Korean president’s order to ban public gatherings for worship. Her pastor insisted on having a public service, openly defying the government’s ban. She was confused with contradictory messages. “Son, you are a pastor. Which is right: to worship God or to listen to the president’s order?” I confidently said to my mother: “Don’t go to church. Stay at home and pray alone, mother. Your pastor is wrong this time.”
The same thing is happening now within American Churches. Thousands of churches are shutting down, struggling to find ways to do ministry behind closed doors. But some conservative pastors refuse to comply to the guidance of public officials to shut down the church: “Why should Christians surrender to fear? People of faith should reject the guidance of public officials. Our gatherings are different. After all, isn’t it true that God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control?” (“Coronavirus, Courage, and the Second Temptation of Christ” by David French.)
Jesus was in a similar situation. Religious leaders laid a trap for him: “Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay the tax or not?” If he was against paying the tax, he would be an enemy to the supporters of Herod and the Roman government. If he said people should pay, then his many followers would not be happy. God’s law didn’t justify paying taxes. After all, they all paid taxes but were in a dilemma like us. Jesus brilliantly gave the solution: “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Jesus was in complete freedom which came from God so that he could avoid the narrowness of human rules. He always thought about what God wanted him to be and to do. Jesus always lived with a higher calling, enough to overcome human narrowness: “Man is not for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for man.” (Mark 2:27)
As a pastor, I am extra cautious about social distancing, not because I am afraid of this virus but because I might be a transmitter of the virus to our members. However, I am willing to run a risk to help members when they are in critical condition. I believe that many doctors and nurses work these days like Christ to care for sick and dying, exposing themselves to this deadly disease. That is the freedom Jesus gives us now. Jesus directs me to God that “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)
Who are the people with whom you feel that you can’t really be yourself? If you don’t allow yourself to be governed by the pressure of other’s expectation, what do you do first as the follower of the free Jesus? The free Jesus will bring out the freedom that is hidden within us.