On Jesus and the Stigma of COVID

Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had previously had leprosy.

Matthew 26:6

One of Derick’s family members got a positive COVID test result back in the summer and it resulted in quarantine for his whole family. All their plans and interactions came to a screeching halt.

By now, this is a familiar drill to most of us.

Though there were upsides to being forced to stay home for 10 days, part of the experience made Derick sympathize with those who have leprosy. He felt a distinct stigma, shame even, of being put away from the rest of society for a while.

It seemed like everyone kind of forgot about Derick and his family during that period. There were a few exceptions, people who reached out to check on him by text, but otherwise he and his family felt like they had the plague. Socially, they were cut off from their community, even their church community. Until they were cleared, the unspoken message was that they were on their own.

This may be overdue, but now is a good time to address how we handle the social implications of a positive test result. The stigma associated with being COVID positive is regrettable for at least a couple of reasons:

  1. It keeps people from reaching out for help out of fear of what people will think about them. They don’t want to be seen as “unclean.” I know of a lady who was extremely sick with COVID recently. At a minimum she needed prayer support, but since she never disclosed it, no one prayed. Was she too embarrassed to say that she had it? Probably so. She suffered quietly and secretly at home. Meanwhile, there would have been a small army of people who have gladly interceded for her recovery.
  2. It keeps people from reaching out to help those who need it. The reality of contagiousness is that it paralyzes those who might otherwise offer help. There’s this misconception that when someone is positive and in quarantine you just need to leave them alone, when in reality that’s the worst thing we can do. Isolation is a killer. While observing social distancing and safety measures, those who have tested positive or are in quarantine need to hear from the rest of us. They need to know that we have not forgotten about them. By way of a call, text, email, delivery, etc. they must be assured that they have not been discarded.

While alone in quarantine, Derick thought of those who live in leper colonies and how lonely and difficult it must be to live perpetually under that stigma. But then he also thought about those who serve them and how scary that would be. Why would they do that? What, or who, inspires them? Jesus, of course.

Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.’ Jesus reached out and touched him. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be healed’ and instantly the leprosy disappeared.

Matthew 8:2-3

When it comes to sin, we’ve all tested positive, every single one of us. Sin is ugly and its consequence is harsh and terminal. But on the cross, Jesus assumed responsibility for the penalty of our sin. Rather than keeping a safe distance in Heaven, Jesus crossed over into our world and stepped into our hot zone. He took on a body like ours, felt pain and sorrow like we do, and then paid the ultimate price in our place.

If you’re dealing with a positive test result today, know that you’re loved. May the Lord heal you. Or if you know of someone dealing with COVID today, reach out to them. In Jesus’ name, let’s end the stigma.

It’s a new day with God. Run with it.

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