The call to help during COVID-19

How have you responded or reacted to COVID-19? Have you withdrawn, been immobilised or reached out? I suspect, at some point we have all behaved in these three different and very normal ways.

We are very aware of the financial, psychological, social and physical risks of getting involved and reaching out in a pandemic. We could become infected and spread the infection. However, there are also risks in doing nothing or withdrawing. Many psychological studies show the link between social withdrawal, loneliness and depression. In his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), French economist Thomas Picketty suggests that not supporting the economically vulnerable will result in a global reduction in growth, a negative outcome which promises to impact us all. Ultimately, this shows the risks of standing back or not becoming involved.

The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates how we might ethically and compassionately manage these competing risks. The parable is about a traveller who is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road. First a priest and then a Levite comes by. Both avoid the man and don’t get involved. In Jewish culture, contact with a dead body was understood to be defiling. Priests and Levites were enjoined to avoid uncleanness and required periods of self-quarantine if defiled. Sound familiar? Finally, a Samaritan happens upon the traveller. Samaritans and Jews despised each other, but the Samaritan and then an innkeeper help the injured man. Both the Samaritan and innkeeper risk social exclusion, physical aggression, financial hardship and psychological anxiety by reaching out and getting involved. I suspect they assess that the risks of doing nothing or withdrawing are greater than the risks of getting involved; and more importantly it’s the right thing to do.

I suspect they assess that the risks of doing nothing or withdrawing are greater than the risks of getting involved; and more importantly it’s the right thing to do.

Jesus is described as telling the parable in response to a question from a lawyer, “And who is my neighbour?” In response, Jesus tells the parable, the conclusion of which is that the neighbour in the parable is the man who shows mercy to the injured man—that is, the Samaritan. I like to think it’s also the innkeeper.

I invite you to think about how you might show mercy and reach out to help those in need.

As we reflect on how we’ve responded or reacted to COVID-19 thus far, remember that whatever behaviour we choose entails risk; the parable invites us to reach out and show mercy. I invite you to think about how you might show mercy and reach out to help those in need, while keeping yourself and your neighbours safe?

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