When will you feel like the pandemic is over? I’ve thought a lot about when I might feel safe not wearing a mask (probably never), but before this week as more vaccines become available I hadn’t thought about when it might feel like it was all over. I think for me it will be when I can go to indoor events with other vaccinated people and not worry if I will be sick in a few days. Maybe for you it will be something different: traveling to see family, going on vacation, attending a wedding, hugging friends.
I think we will all have different definitions of when it is safe to go back to “normal.” Everyone has a different level of risk tolerance and I deeply appreciate the ability to choose how much risk I want to take. Pandemics aren’t like playing the craps table at Vegas, though. If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that the choices each of us make impact others around us. I saw a recent Neil deGrasse Tyson tweet that said, “We’re just sayin’. To abolish mask-wearing laws in some States while the rest of the Nation keeps theirs is like designating a peeing section of the swimming pool.” Part of being in a community is negotiating all of these boundaries between autonomy and personal freedom and protecting the whole community.
Jesus was taken to task for healing on the sabbath, but he points out that exceptions are made to the rule all the time. No one questions the necessity of circumcising a baby on the sabbath if 8 days after birth falls on the sabbath. The circumcision of a baby was an important marker of his membership in the community. Why shouldn’t the healing of a whole body also be important to the health of the whole community?
I think many rules and laws exist to help us understand the principle of justice so that we can understand how to make exceptions. That’s what it means to “judge with right judgment.” There will come a time when we will be able to make exceptions to group gatherings and mask-wearing, but we will still need to “judge with right judgment.” We will need to always remember the principles of COVID-19 transmission and make our exceptions with an eye toward personal and community safety.
Jesus’s choice to heal on the sabbath wasn’t just about his own personal choice about whether or not to keep the sabbath. It was about balancing his personal choice with the needs of the community and the principle of justice set forth by sabbath laws. When Jesus balanced these needs and desires, he decided that it was worth making an exception to the sabbath law because the principle of justice established by it would be carried out by making a person well.
As you navigate these ever-changing pandemic waters, I hope you will also “judge with right judgment.”