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I was listening to the news on my office radio the other day and a commentator on NPR described “social distancing” as a new development, something we’ve never done before. I don’t know what world that commentator has lived in, but humanity has been practicing social distancing since we first walked upright.
I remember my first experience with social distancing. I was eight years old or thereabouts. My birthday was fast approaching and my father overheard me tell the next door neighbor girl she wasn’t invited to my birthday party. He called me into the house, ordered me to apologize to the girl and invite her to my party. This was the end of the world, as I knew it. Girls at a birthday party. And yet I survived it, and so too will this pass.
This week I’ve been thinking about social distancing, and Jesus, who apparently was terrible at social distancing, came to mind. Matthew 9:10-11. “While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’”
Jesus never got the hang of social distancing.
Do you remember the story Luke told of the ten lepers Jesus headed? “While on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.”
Jesus never got the hang of social distancing.
And really, neither should we. Oh, of course, we need to keep our physical distance from one another until this virus has passed. That’s just good sense. But that doesn’t mean we remain spiritually and emotionally distant from one another. It doesn’t mean we let this virus claim all our time and attention. Jesus did his best work while doing something else. We see this time and again in the Bible, when miracle stories began like this…“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house…While on his way to Jerusalem…”
Finish this sentence, “While holed up in my house, I…”
…wrote letters to my children, grandchildren, and friends to tell them I loved them. Not emails, not texts, but honest-to-goodness letters, that they squirreled away and read time and again.
While holed up in my house…I downloaded and read all those books I should have read in high school and college, but didn’t.
While holed up in my house…I got out the Fairfield Directory and prayed for every person.
While holed up in my house…I phoned everyone I knew who lived alone to make sure they were alright.
While holed up in my house…I watch video clips of Jim Gaffigan, because laughter doeth good like medicine.
While holed up in my house…I put on a mask and gloves, made a coconut cream pie, and dropped it off at my pastor’s house.
Or went on a walk, which is not only permitted, but encouraged.
This is all to say that most of life doesn’t happen because of our carefully laid plans. Life consists of what happens while we were doing something else, these unexpected twists in the road we never anticipated, which nevertheless form and transform our lives. I was taking out the trash when I met Joan, walking down the sidewalk on her way to a softball game. She was carrying a baseball mitt. How could I resist?
A little over five years ago, our granddaughter Madeline wasn’t even in our lives, now she is our life. These unexpected developments that form and transform our lives.
Now look at that. I got to thinking about my granddaughter and strayed from my point, which was this. Don’t get so good at social distancing that you start emotionally distancing yourselves from others. Don’t become so expert at keeping your distance that you forget and forsake others.
This predicament will one day end. Probably not as soon as we would like, but it will end. We’ll go back to work and school and church. We’ll shake hands again and share meals and worship side by side. We’re going to have the largest pitch-in dinner in Fairfield history when this is over! We’ll have concerts again, and attend weddings and funerals and all the things we’re used to doing. But let’s make doubly sure that during this season of separation we work together to have a church, nation, and world worth coming back to.
Peace to you all. Love deeply. Care much. Laugh often. Help your neighbor. And wash your hands.