Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Faith Matters

“... and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.” Acts 11:26

This is not the first time humanity has been in a dire situation for there have been many plagues and epidemics that have ravaged us throughout history. The Antonine plague in A.D. 165-180 may have killed over 5 million people in the Roman Empire and decimated their army. In A.D. 541-542, the bubonic plague killed almost 10% of the world’s population and marked the start of the decline of the Byzantine empire. Then there is the infamous Black Death in 1346-1353, seven years of devastation that changed the course of European history. Bodies were buried in mass graves. An estimated 500 million  people died from the Spanish Flu from 1918-1920. Some communities almost became extinct. And the list goes on. 

But wherever there is pain and trials, there the Christians go bravely. In one French account of a plague, it is written, “The nuns in one hospital, having no fear of death, tended the sick with sweetness and humility. New nuns replaced those who had died, until most had died. Many times renewed by death, they now rest In peace with Christ.” This selfless nursing tradition developed in the early years of Christianity. In his book, “The Triumph of Christianity”, sociologist and historian Rodney Stark makes the powerful case that the main reason why Christianity flourished while Roman paganism dwindled in the 1st to 4th centuries was because of the care Christians gave toward those who were sick and suffering. While well known Roman healers like the classical physician Galen fled the city of Rome for their country estates, benevolent Christians stayed and ministered to the sick and dying. 

Rodney Shark wrote, “What went on during the epidemics was only an intensification of what went on every day among Christians… Indeed, the impact of Christian mercy was so evident that in the fourth century when the emperor Julian attempted to restore paganism, he exhorted the pagan priesthood to compete with the Christian charities. In a letter to the high priest of Galatia, Julian urged the distribution of grain and wine to the poor, noting that “the impious Galileans [Christians], in addition to their own, support ours, [and] it is shameful that our poor should be wanting our aid.” But there was little or no response to Julian’s proposals because there were no doctrines and no traditional practices for the pagan priest to build upon…. Christians believed in life everlasting. At most, pagans believed in an unattractive existence in the underworld. Thus, for Galen to have remained in Rome to treat the afflicted during the first great plague would have required far greater bravery than was needed by Christian deacons and presbyters to do so. Faith mattered.”

Yes, faith matters, today more than ever. As Christians we are called to be loving, generous and merciful, like Christ. Many of our brothers and sisters are risking their lives every day serving in the front lines of this devastating pandemic. We ourselves may not be called to go out and tend the sick, but we can surely pray in faith, encourage one another, and give generously, as much as we are able, to those in need. 

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:^) Patsy