Zachary Elliott, Special to Valley News
It’s no secret, masks and social distancing have caused quite a stir across the nation. And, sadly, it’s affected the way people treat each other.
Consider this story about what one member of my church experienced the other day. She walked in to a coffee shop to pick up her morning coffee and was greeted by a lady with a tape measure yelling at the barista that the stickers on the floor weren’t exactly 6 feet from each other.
Apparently, she had complained about it the week before and was coming in to check and see if the coffee shop had obeyed her direct orders to move the stickers further apart. They hadn’t and were now feeling her wrath.
I’m sure you know this tale is just one of many stories where people have all but lost their minds toward someone who didn’t follow the rules their way.
Let me ask you: Since when did COVID-19 supersede the command from Jesus?
You know, the one where he told us to love our neighbor?
Answer: it hasn’t, and it never will.
Even though everyone has to practice social distancing, don’t distance the love.
Loving your neighbor, even if they disagree with you, and even if they’re contaminated with a virus, is what Jesus said was the greatest.
He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these,” in Matthew 12:30-31.
Can you take a moment and ponder those last few words: “There is no commandment greater than these.”
Now that statement changes everything.
Jesus not only taught this command to his followers; he modeled it as well. When he walked the earth, the “virus” of concern was called leprosy. It was highly contagious and an extreme social issue of the day.
In fact, anyone who had leprosy was required by law to yell out “Unclean,” if someone without leprosy was too close. They even had to live outside the city in their own community. Talk about social distancing.
They were considered ugly outcasts who were unable to live in normal society, totally rejected and considered stricken by God.
No one was allowed to touch them. Period. If you did, it would have made you unclean as well. You would be quarantined, while you went through the purification process.
But it didn’t stop Jesus from loving them.
On one occasion while Jesus was being followed by a large crowd, “a man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy,” in Matthew 8:1-2.
Jesus didn’t scream at him to get back 6 feet or to pull a mask over his face. He showed the man love, leprosy and all.
It must have been shocking, not only for the man with leprosy, but also for the crowd. Jesus showed no concern for social opinions or distancing. He simply loved people unconditionally.
I believe Jesus would want us to live the same way as well. Not in fear, anger and hate, but in love.
The people in the world have a lot of disagreements and strong opinions. I’m sure you have your own.
But it doesn’t change the command and example of Jesus. He didn’t say only love those who agree or are perfectly healthy and do things like you.
He said, “Love your neighbor,” and to love them exactly as they are.
Loving people is what sets us apart as a follower of Jesus.
In John 13:35, Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Love is what makes us different. It’s what makes us truly more like Jesus.
Sadly, somewhere along the way, people have forgotten what sets them apart as followers of Jesus, their love for each other.
It’s not a love that conforms to everyone’s ideologies, opinions or fears. That’s impossible.
But it’s a love that is patient and kind. A love that does not envy or boast and is not proud. It especially does not dishonor others; it’s not self-seeking; it’s not easily angered and it keeps no record of wrongs, according to I Corinthians 13.
That’s the kind of love that sets believers apart. It’s a love that conforms to be like Jesus and transforms their lives into his image. And when people see that love, it marks believers as followers of Jesus and it draws them to him.
Sadly, the world will always have haters and rude people in it. At times, that’s been me, and I’m sure it’s been you too.
Let’s change that attitude. Don’t distance the love, especially the love of Jesus. The world needs it now more than ever.
Zachary Elliott is the lead pastor of Fusion Christian Church in Temecula. For more information, visit https://www.fusionchristianchurch.com, https://fourminutefaithbuilder.com or find them on Instagram.