Wouldn’t you know that as we approach the infamous Ides of March that our planet is having to contend with a pandemic that has everyone on the edge of his seat, one that is about as far away from the next person as we can possibly get? The experts in the public health community refer to this tendency as “social distancing," and commend it as one that is in everyone’s best interest to practice.
I’m hardly a public health expert, but I can certainly understand the need to keep our distance from one another in order to avoid either contracting the coronavirus or if we’re an unwitting carrier, not affecting those around us.
I am, however, a Christian, and so there’s something about the phrase that I find bothersome; actually, I find it distasteful. To say that I am practicing “social distancing” automatically implies that I see others only as potential threats to my well-being and I consequently must make sure that I stay away from as many as I can to protect myself. I get that the public health experts have much more in mind than personal protection when they commend the phrase and that keeping a safe distance from one another is actually good for everyone involved. I just wish we could come up with another term to use. The present one takes me back to my childhood days when we kids weren’t known for being very kind to one another.
So, I’ve come up with my own term. I’m choosing to refer to our interactions with one another in the present season as “social respect.” If I must stay away from you, it’s not because I’m afraid of you or that I don’t want to be near you. It’s because I respect your right to stay healthy and would in no way want to contribute to your coming down with something. “Social respect” seems the best way to remove the stigma from what public health officials are recommending we do for the foreseeable future so that we emphasize the worth of those around us instead of perceiving them only as potential threats.
I realize that all of this may seem like semantics to some. But in a day where folk are already choosing to distance themselves from others for non-health-related reasons, I think it’s a small step to take to make sure we give a witness that holds others in the highest of esteem. That seems to be the approach Jesus took with the people of his day whom most others thought should be avoided: lepers, tax collectors, and every form of sinner. Jesus saw them as God did, and gave his life for them, and for us. Let’s make sure that thought stays with us as we navigate and negotiate this chaotic season, because it is overlaid with an even more significant one, a season that leads to a cross and an empty tomb, and the victory that will come to all who draw near to it and embrace it – a victory that can never be compromised, corrupted, or taken away.
“Show proper respect to everyone” (1 Peter 2:17a).