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The Weeping Unmasked Man at the Grocery Store

The other day I was at my neighborhood market, standing in the check out line and observing a man in front of me who was trying to purchase a gift card for someone outside. He told the checker that he was going to make sure the man was still there. Then he jet outside and came back with the individual in need, a man in his forties or fifties with brown leathery-skin and tattoos up his arms. The man in front of me told his friend or acquaintance that he was buying him a ten dollar gift card and would that be enough. The man in need nodded and then began to weep. 

It was then that a store employee, a young lady maybe in her twenties, came up to the weeping man and told him that he needed to put on his face mask. I had not noticed up until this point that he wasn't wearing one. She pressed him repeatedly until he found a crumbled mask in his pocket. By that time I was bubbling with anger.

Could she not see what was going on? Could she not tell that something more important than face masks was happening? Was she so focused on policies and rules that her heart was shut to compassion and allowances and understanding?

I'm reminded of the multiple times Jesus healed people on the Sabbath, and the religious leaders were upset because Jesus broke a Sabbath rule. Jesus was angry at the religious leaders because their rules were more important to them than their compassion for people. 

Jesus wasn't saying, "Forget the Sabbath! It's not important." No. I think even Jesus honored the Sabbath and kept it holy. But he criticized the religious leaders because their strict adherence to rules took precedence over caring for people.

I think the same is true of masks and social distancing. It has probably been a good idea to limit our social interactions this past year. It has probably been good to wear masks and stay home more than we're used to. But as soon as these rules become more important than people's needs, we have a problem. If our masks and rules forbid us from extending compassion and healing to others in the way that Jesus did, they have failed to serve their purpose. And yes, I do think masks can be a way to love others. It is a way. But it is not the only way.

Similarly, respecting people's private property is a way to love others. Barging into someone's home at all hours will most likely create grievances. But never stepping foot into their homes even when an invitation has been extended, will also create walls and barriers. It is not an all or nothing sort of affair. 

There are general guidelines to give us an idea of what's right and wrong, and then there's listening to the Holy Spirit and asking him, how can I love this person here in front of me. If it is through taking off the mask and hugging them, then take off the mask and hug. If it's through staying away from them, then stay away. If it's through not bringing up political topics, then stop bringing up political topics. If it's through just listening, just listen. If it's through staying six feet away, stay six feet away. 

But we must not stand by a rule as if that rule were Jesus Christ himself and can save us from judgement, blame, danger and hell itself. Only Jesus can do that.

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