Jesus Would Have Worn a Mask. You Should Too.

Rev. Juan Carlos Ruíz

Image via Desirée Tapia for The Americano

By Rev. Juan Carlos Ruiz

May 14, 2020

When we wear our face mask, it’s not just a sign of self-care; it’s a sign of empathy, love, and regard for our siblings around us; a show of thankfulness to our essential workers for risking their lives for us.

Using the recommended Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can reflect who we are and what we stand for. I am not just talking about using a mask out of respect to our medical staff. I am also referring to cleaning personnel, supermarket staff, all health-care workers, U.S. postal workers, and even chaplains and pastors trying to provide pastoral care to their dying members

By following the protocol and taking the recommended precautions, we can save lives. Wearing our masks points to a fundamental truth and call in our Gospels: as Christians, we have the moral imperative to care for the neighbor. On the contrary, not wearing one shows a lack of compassion for the other, the very opposite of what Christ taught us during his time on Earth.  

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As reported by The New York Times, while the White House staff has been ordered to wear masks, at a news conference, President Donald Trump reiterated that he would not wear a mask himself. Last month, Vice President of the United States and Head of the Coronavirus Task Force, Mike Pence, didn’t wear a mask while touring Mayo Clinic.  In a video captured by a pool camera, Pence can be seen standing in a group of 10 people, including a patient, all of whom are wearing masks and personal protective equipment. The Mayo Clinic, the nation’s premier medical facility, Minnesota requires all patients, visitors, and staff to wear face-covering or mask

For a government and Coronavirus Task Force official whose obligation is to protect those he leads, Pence’s actions were in direct defiance of these vital guidelines, pointing to the confusing message and complete disregard from the highest places of power to uphold and protect human life. In fact, he is not only disobeying protocol with his actions, but Pence’s actions also illustrate a clear lack of regard for the American people. He has described himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican — in that order.” As an Evangelical Pastor, I find that difficult to believe when the actions of the Vice President are so contrary to Christian values.

This crisis not only forces us to decide what kind of leaders we want to be, but what kind of humans do we want to be: one that regards only their own self, or one that cares for all members of our community and society? Merely calling yourself “a Christian” means very little. Jesus taught us by example, which means you must act like a Christian, with humility and care for all those around you. As the pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, a sanctuary congregation, I am committed to helping all people, especially the immigrant population and the undocumented. I was one of them. 

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After closing the church doors for service on March 13th, two families came by the Soul Café (our fellowship space) asking for food. They told me that their kids were going hungry and that they had already been out of work for weeks. With my mask on, I led them to the basket, at the entrance of the church by the baptismal fountain, where we collect the food each week. I emptied the basket, sharing all we had with them. It was not much, but it did suffice. Word got out. We saw the hand of God guiding us as we began to weave a network of solidarity.

Since then, my congregation has become a food pantry for thousands and thousands of vulnerable people, and this has given us an active role in responding with love and care to our neighbors. About 800 prepared meals are sent out, thanks to the countless generosity of the Episcopal Cathedral of Long Island, the North Brooklyn Angels, the Tacombi restaurants and many others. Good people make this possible. Hearing and responding to God’s call makes it possible.

As we follow this path of generosity, we do so practicing the life of resurrection. The wounds on our own bodies and the body of our community are more visible than ever. The grief is intense. Yet stronger than ever are the bonds of love that unite us and cannot be destroyed by death.

How do I see our church standing in the midst of this created storm?

How do I see the future of our endeavors? I see our church as a beacon of light and an example of equality and generosity. I do say “created” storm because I think inequality is not just a result of this pandemic. We have been living in a humanitarian crisis for many years, in which the resources are pocketed and misallocated, never getting to those who really need them, and the corporations and those in power are both wasting and mismanaging these resources.

I often sit, watching the light fade away as night comes to envelope the world, thinking on the calls that continue to flood in. Just the other night, friends of friends called to tell me of two young children who died due to the virus. One was 20 years young, and the other even younger, 19. Both were on the front lines as restaurant delivery men, without any family in the U.S.. I have been listening and extending, sometimes a thousand miles away, words of consolation. On a more pragmatic level, I have been connecting and navigating with those families the halls of grief, and funeral homes and directors, whom I have come to know and respect, and who are helping. I am grateful for the privilege and honor to serve God’s people.

Many who live here in southwest Brooklyn belong to minority groups, and the virus has done nothing but to highlight the profound inequality and injustice that many of our communities suffer. Historically, this is nothing new. We know that black and brown communities are disproportionately feeling the effects of this pandemic, and that we, as people of God, have the obligation and moral authority to hold government officials accountable for their decisions. We may belong to different institutional bodies, but we are working for the same God. We have lived through many crises already, and it is the common people who repeatedly respond in a generous and non-judgmental way to rebuild communities. We need to continue to work together in this way, regardless of how the government is responding. We must continue to wear our masks for each other, regardless of how authorities behave. 

I do pray that in this time of turmoil and uncertainty for millions of people, the government may have the wisdom and strength to care for the most vulnerable among us in a compassionate and loving way. This begins with removing the barriers of inequity for the well-being of all humanity. It is by God’s provident hand that our local community is led to thrive in its response to this crisis, and to stand with the bigger church that is the world. We must denounce the seeds of division and confusion planted by our government and proclaim the good news that our communities of faith embody. 



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