We can see it at the very beginning of God’s Word when He made it clear to Cain that we have indeed been called to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Likewise, just before the back of the book, 1 John 3.17 rather pointedly asks that “if anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has not pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”
But in between those passages, in Romans 14.4, St. Paul had a question of his own as well, namely, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall.” And even Jesus told Peter when he asked about the future of another disciple, “What is that to you?” (John 11.22)
Or to put it another way, “Why don’t you mind your own business?” And that would seem to be the operative word as our society, including our churches, begin to re-open in the coming weeks. For the temptation to judge the actions—or inactions—of others, and even the intention of their hearts in some cases, will be an enormous one, I fear.
Some folks are more than ready, for instance, to press the play button and resume their lives. For the enforced quarantine may have done a number not just on their nervous systems, but on their resources and retirement plans as well. They may not have caught a Covid-19 fever but they’ve struggled mightily with cabin fever and some may have even seen their marriages or mental health begin to collapse under the strain.
Others, however, may have sound reasons to stay in and stay more cautious. For even if an individual is not over seventy or with medical conditions that compromise their immunities, the truth is that there are all kinds of background stories that you and I know absolutely nothing about: family histories, caregiver responsibilities, hidden health concerns, anxieties or deep-seated phobias… you name it, someone you know probably has it.
And as these two scenarios unfold and even collide in the days ahead, it will be up to all of us to follow the admonition of Jesus to “judge not that we be not judged” (Matthew 7.1) Some will wear masks around us, for instance, and others will not. Without becoming a Face Covering Cop, simply move away from them if you’re not comfortable. Some will seem stand-offish or overly cautious; remember there’s a history you haven’t heard and give them their space. For as Rosaria Butterfield once suggested, “we never know the treacherous path that others take to arrive in the pew that we share Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day.”
What we do know, however, is that regardless of how others may act, in the end it’s not up to us to correct or admonish them, for they are not our servants at all. Instead, they belong to the Lord who can do whatever He needs to with them. So put on your patience, resist the urge to criticize, give others far more slack than you may think they deserve, and don’t even roll your eyes at them. Don’t take names and don’t take offense.
God can handle each of us individually in the school of life. And at least insofar as I know, He has not appointed any of us to serve as His hall or cafeteria monitors.