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Shoehorning Jesus into the great mask debate

These days, across the nation and throughout Christendom, there’s a white-hot theological debate on a topic that I’m sure has been debated for centuries: Would Jesus wear a mask?

This issue is due to the novel coronavirus—a troublesome virus that proves, once and for all, Tommy Lee Jones’s statement from the movie “Men in Black”: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.”

But I digress.

The great controversy of Coronapocalypse is: Are you pro-mask or anti-mask? Which do you value more—personal liberty, or corporate safety? Do masks really help even if people use them improperly (which, it seems, almost everyone does), or are they just a symbolic tool to make us feel proactive and safe?

And this is a flaming hot issue. Both sides claim to have definitive data on their side. Some people defiantly go out with no masks, causing scenes or attacking store employees who ask them to put one on. Others follow the offenders and post videos of their egregious sin while trying to shame them into compliance.

Pro-mask or anti-mask: which one are you? (I will pause here so you can choose a team.)

And now, not to feel left behind, the body of Christ has entered the fray, leading us back to that burning question which has troubled philosophers since I believe the Council of Nicea…

Would Jesus wear a mask?

Anti-maskers might say: “Of course he wouldn’t. He’s, like, God. Why would he? COVID can’t kill him. And it can’t kill me, either, unless God allows it. So I’m just going to live my life, and follow Christ’s example of trusting God.”

And that actually makes sense.

But pro-maskers might say: “Of course he would. It’s the compassionate thing to do. Even if it doesn’t slow the virus, at least it shows others that we are not selfish; we do care about their safety.”

And that actually makes sense too.

Me? I don’t wear a mask. But it’s not because I’m an anti-masker. It’s because covering my face gives me great anxiety, sometimes almost to the point of panic attacks. I just can’t cover my face, not even to keep it warm in subzero weather.

I’m not proud of this weakness, especially in this era of COVID-19. But I just can’t tolerate face coverings. And it’s not something I can turn on and off. Anxiety doesn’t work like that.

Before anyone says I should do it anyway, let me ask you this: What is the situation that creates the most anxiety for YOU? Is it heights, caves, family? Think of a time when you were in that situation, or imagine that you are in it at this moment. Now do you see how crazy it sounds to just get over it?

This week I had to visit my doctor’s office, which I knew would require me to wear a mask. The mere thought was so stressful for me that I slept only three hours the night before and only after taking some Benadryl. All night long I thought about that visit. I feared I might panic and hyperventilate right there in the office, which would cause a spectacle and embarrass me half to death.

Fortunately, at the office I was given a cloth mask and, when I told them about my panic attacks, the doctor and nurse allowed to use it my own clumsy way: instead of strapping it behind my ears, I held its top edge against the bridge of my nose and let the rest of it hang down in front of my mouth. The doctor and nurse were perfect examples of how to be adaptive and gracious—much more so than most other examples I’ve seen.

And this is what troubles me about shoehorning Jesus into the great mask debate. Jesus is more than a rhetorical point to support either side of any issue. Those who label any given action as “not like Jesus” or “unChristian” are generally missing the complexity of his nature—how gracious he is, how understanding. They are shrinking Jesus into a flimsy, feeble figurine that might be rubbed for good luck.

So what WOULD Jesus say in this debate over masks? First of all, if you think what he would say is directed at the other side, you’re not hearing him.

I believe he would meet each of us exactly where we are.

To the militant anti-masker who sees this as a fight for liberty and personal choice, he might say: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Luke 25:40).

To the aggressive pro-masker who appears to focus more on the act than on the heart, he might say: “You tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders” (Matthew 23:4).

To the one with anxiety issues who wants to wear a mask but is overwhelmed by panic, he might say: “Then neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11).

Jesus is bigger than any issue you can name.

In the great mask debate, as in all of life, what would he say not to others but to you?

Published inAnxietyCurrent EventsGrace

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