An asymptomatic carrier
I’ve learned recently that I can be an asymptomatic carrier. That is a phrase I really hadn’t heard much, if at all, prior to 2020. As we all probably know by now, it means that I can harbor and transmit to others something dangerous without actually being aware that it exists in me. My new awareness has made me much more alert to how I interact with people, what I may be doing quite unintentionally, and what the impact is on other people from events and experiences in my own life. It’s quite an eye-opener and a worthwhile caution.
I should not have needed the reminder. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus talks about the vulnerability of children who come to him. If anyone causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better to be drowned in the sea (18:6).
Paul, the early gospel preacher, talked about Christian freedom similarly: You were called to freedom, but do not use it as an opportunity for self-indulgence; through love become servants of one another. ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Galatians 5:13-14); and, If your brother or sister is being injured by what you do, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you do cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. Do not let your good be spoken of as evil (Romans 14:15-16).
The author of 1 Peter picked up the theme: Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the community. Fear God (2:16-17).
Those counsels about the prudent use of freedom and the gifts of grace that God has given grow out of a fundamental insight about God, which Israel’s prophets already knew. How we treat the most vulnerable among us – “the widow, the orphan, and the stranger” in the terms of biblical Israel – is the measure of our morality. Assuming that others “can take care of themselves” is not biblical.
God does not leave us to “take care of ourselves” with regard to the sin that enslaves us; God so loves us as to send the only Son to save us from that sin. We in turn, and in gratitude, go out of our way to care for others, even those we do not know, in any way we can. That includes developing a greater awareness of how I may put others at risk without consciously knowing it.
The interesting thing about our time with the novel coronavirus is that it made this all clearer for me when issues of racial justice emerged. Wear a mask because I may be infectious? Of course! And just as obviously, then: double-check my language, biases, policy positions, political and charitable donations, voting choices, and buying habits – because I could be an asymptomatic carrier of racial attitudes that can infect and harm others without my consciously knowing it.
The coronavirus hardly feels “novel” anymore; I’ve spent so much time learning about it and about how to live well and responsibly with it in our society. Race issues don’t feel “novel” either; they have been around far too long and are painfully slow in responding to efforts to address them. That doesn’t excuse me from continuing to learn, and grow, and change, and be alert and responsible, because the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).