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BY REV. JO SCHONEWOLF

November 21, 2020
As the desperately-needed COVID-19 vaccines become available, we must assure free and easy access for all.
Image source:
AP News
Coronavirus vaccines are coming. Who should get them first? -via The Washington Post

A year after the first cases of COVID-19 were reported, the U.S. faces more than a quarter of a million deaths from COVID, likely a substantial undercount, while worldwide cases top 57 million. Vaccines will help, of course, but they won’t be widely available at first, which leads to questions. “What protections do Britain, or the United States, owe to racial and ethnic minorities who make up an outsized portion of those dying? …Prisons have been hot spots for infection around the world. …Would lower-risk people be okay knowing they rank below those who have committed crimes?" 
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” —Matthew 25:31-46
For those of us who follow the Revised Common Lectionary, the Judgement of the Nations the gospel lesson for worship tomorrow. It’s a passage I assume most, if not all, of us who read The Resistance Prays are familiar with because, for many of us, it’s the basis of our moral imagination. Or, as one of my youth said at Bible study this week as we read it, “People quote this a lot.” Yeah. We do quote this a lot. 

For those of us who are haunted by Jesus of Nazareth, the end of Matthew 25 gives us our moral imperative: we must care for the least of these. We must always be ready to help the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, those without clothing or shelter, those who are sick, and those who are in prison. And there’s a very good reason why we liberal-minded, Christian-minded folks take this passage so seriously: it’s the judgement of the nations. We’re very aware that Jesus isn’t focused so much on personal piety here as he is on how we as a society treat the least of these among us. If we know that as a society we aren’t caring for the least of these, and we do nothing to fix that, we’re culpable. This parable is powerful for those of us living in the United States. Given our track record, we’re definitely goats. 

Here before us is a chance to center the least of these in our policy. As officials make plans for vaccine distribution amidst this deadly pandemic that has affected the least of these most of all, it is our task as Christians to make sure that those who have been made into the least of these by our centuries of white supremacy, racism, and colonialism, not to mention those who have been trampled over in our unending pursuit of wealth. We all know this pandemic isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s past time for those of us who have the ability to advocate for the least of these to lift up our voices. When the vaccines come, Black and Brown people at risk must be prioritized. 

As I’ll tell my congregation tomorrow, this parable is an apocalyptic one. It’s about the day of judgement. No one knows when that day will come, but Jesus’ message throughout Matthew 25 is clear. We can’t be like the goats, who ignored the reality in front of them and couldn’t spare a thought for the least of these. If we want to be like the righteous, we have to always be working for the well-being of the least of these. Whenever the last day comes, we want to get caught trying.
Plan to join the Poor People’s Campaign on Monday as they kick off a week of mourning and calling for just COVID relief polices.
Jesus, I can’t speak for anyone else, but your words cut me to the quick. My heart is troubled as I look at the world around me and see that at every turn, we are failing the least of these, your chosen family. Show me what to do, Jesus. Strengthen me so that I can do it. Send me your Holy Spirit and send me companions for the road ahead. I hear your call and I’m ready to do the work you have prepared for me. Amen.
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