Wash Your Hands, You Sinners

Hope for When We Discover We Are Already Infected

Kate Campbell / 3.16.20

I just returned from a five-day trip to the Dominican Republic where I was visiting a missionary who is planting churches in the farthest mountain villages of the country. The trip was an amazing adventure — I spent hours in a pickup truck on a bumpy dirt road, climbed a few mountains, and stayed in a remote village. I thoroughly enjoyed being unplugged from the world, drinking coffee at the homes of a few Dominican families, and listening to the sounds of Spanish, English, and Haitian Creole all being spoken around me.

I came back to the US to a deluge of news about the coronavirus, of course. When I got off the plane in Fort Lauderdale, the paranoia was palpable. Dozens of people around me were wearing face masks and latex gloves, and many were rubbing their hands with sanitizer incessantly. I felt wildly unprepared. I didn’t have wipes or Purell. Reading about shortages of supplies at grocery stores, I took mental stock of my pantry at home — did I have enough rice? Toilet paper? Matches?

So far I’ve traveled to nearly 50 countries in my life, and some trips were more rugged than others. I’ve eaten questionable street food and ridden in cars without seat belts in countries where traffic laws are more a suggestion than a rule. I’ve brushed my teeth with unfiltered tap water in dozens of places, and I’ve been known to sleep through airplane turbulence, long bus rides, and earthquakes. I’m generally pretty fearless when it comes to travel. And yet when I stepped into the Fort Lauderdale airport, I was overwhelmed.

The fear hit me hardest when I called my parents. My phone was glitching so I could hear them, but they couldn’t hear me. Normally I’d just brush it off and call them later. But I hadn’t talked to them since before I’d left, and in the midst of all the uncertainty, I wanted to let them know I was okay. We both were getting more and more frustrated, the dysfunctional calls embodying my biggest fear about the coronavirus: being cut off from the people I love.

For me, getting the coronavirus doesn’t scare me nearly as much as the isolation does. We are all wired for connection, and I thrive on interactions with people, no matter who. The thought that scared me the most about this craziness has been: What if I have to be quarantined? What if I can’t see my friends? What if I have to be stuck at home alone?

Traveling during the outbreak feels like the 21st-century version of being unclean in biblical times. Back then, if you were unclean from an illness, a discharge of bodily fluid, or from touching an unclean object, there was often a period of exile from the community, paired with strict instructions about cleansing (see Leviticus for details). Today, everywhere I go, I’m bombarded with reminders to wash my hands — even my Bible app’s verse of the day warned me: “Wash your hands, you sinners” (Jas 4:8). All the advisory statements I’ve read say that I need to limit social interaction and public outings for the first two weeks after returning home.

It made me think differently than I have before about the extravagantly unsanitary love of Jesus in his ministry on Earth. I thought about the bleeding woman, shunned for 12 years, caught face-to-face with the Messiah who healed her and restored her to community. His words to her are so comforting to me right now: “Take heart, daughter. Your faith has healed you.” I thought of the leper, whom Jesus touched before he was even cleansed, sent off to the very priests who had deemed him unclean. Sitting in the possibility of quarantine, I felt unclean. I feared I would be shunned, and I understand these stories a little better.

If anything, the coronavirus outbreak has revealed that the patterns of sin in our hearts haven’t changed since Jesus walked the earth, even if the germs and diseases have. We are prone to greed, stocking up on groceries, and neglecting the difficult realities that so many in our community are facing. We are prone to fear, quick to dodge anyone who coughs, or making baseless assumptions about someone because of their race. And we are prone to insecurity, wondering if someone will still love us and take care of us, even as we sit with the possibility of infection.

The problem is, we are already infected. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, “Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before [the coronavirus began to spread].” As we scramble to save ourselves from this earthly ailment, the creeping virus of sin continues to infect our hearts with greed and fear and a whole host of other strains of itself. Against this disease, quarantine won’t help — it grows even when we’re isolated, just as it can grow when we gather together, multiplying as it passes from person to person.

Graciously, the same verse that bade me to wash my hands also says, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” The bleeding woman and the leper knew the secret, too — get close to Jesus, and he can make you clean. Jesus approached us in our worst, most contagious condition, one that’s plagued humanity for thousands of years, and promised to heal us. We have access to our Heavenly Father, who turns His face to us (without a mask) and extends His hands to us (without latex gloves), even in our isolation. Know that you have received the antidote to this disease, stronger than any vaccine: grace. Through that grace, we have the guarantee that Jesus will draw near to us, even when our infected hearts have left us incapable of getting better on our own.

*This article is not meant to diminish the risk and reality of the COVID-19 outbreak. Stay healthy—and wash your hands!*


subscribe to the Mockingbird newsletter


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *