My tiny, rural home county of Lewis County (approx the size of Connecticut with approx the population of Somerville MA) made the national news this week. The Governor of Washington has made masks mandatory to attempt to slow or stop the crashing wave of Coronavirus infections. In response to this legal edict, the Sheriff (you know, the hand of the law) for the county got on a bullhorn (maskless) and advised people that the choice of whether to follow the law was theirs. His exact words, repeated more than once, were “Don’t be a sheep”.
As someone who loves people in Lewis County, and worries about their safety and well being, I have a lot of thoughts about this medically, socially etc. But the thing that really struck me was how profoundly un-Christian this advice is.
You see, throughout the Bible – and especially Jesus’ words – he over and over again talks about his people as sheep. There are incredibly clear stories that came immediately to mind, putting God’s beloved in the role of sheep. The first is, of course, the parable of the Wandering Sheep (Matthew 18:10-14) “If a man owns a hundred sheep … In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”
Of course, we have Jesus as the Good Shepherd (John 10) “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. … Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. … I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
If you’re Catholic, you should care a lot about being a sheep, because of John 21:15 when Jesus, THREE TIMES, asks Peter for one thing, “Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me? He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” This is part of the story that establishes Peter (Simon = Peter if you’re confused) as the Pope. The Pope to this day carries a stylized shepherd’s crook.
The last story comes as a warning (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus has just explained that in the end, we will be judged on whether we have fed the hungry, given water to the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger and visited the prisoner. (I often wonder why religious rights folks haven’t been fighting restrictions against prison visits harder – or at all – for infringing their religious duties). But the end is an apocalyptic scene, where at the judgement day …
“All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. … Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
So take a longer thought. If you are a Christian, should you want to be a sheep? Or should you fight against being a sheep? Will you be led, and guided, by the law, medicine and the need to care for others? Or would you rather be an individualistic goat, wandering in your own free, will not caring who you harm? And if the latter – how do you square that with being a Christian?
Be a sheep. Wear a mask.