Nobody who was asked to describe COVID-19 would reach for the word “fair”. But we do describe it as being “indiscriminate”. And not discriminating is very often considered to be the same thing as being fair.
The current viral pandemic that’s threatening us all is indiscriminate in the sense that it’s a great leveller, that it doesn’t care who it infects and therefore, it’s said, we’re all in this together. So, in a way, it’s fair.
But there is a difference between being indiscriminate and being fair. Are matters of life and death fair to those of us with underlying health conditions? Or to the elderly, who are at far greater risk from this virus than the young and robust?
Then there’s human nature – the worst of which can make life cruelly unfair for those less mobile and able to compete for shopping when supermarket shelves are cleared of food and provisions by panic-buyers.
And there’s money – we read of the wealthy from London spending tens of thousands to rent houses on country estates to escape the virus, as if they were medieval courtiers fleeing from the pestilence.
We’re lucky to live in rural East Sussex – and I’m keenly aware that I’m at lower risk than if I was still living in London. The lives we live, in this sense, aren’t “fair”.
But, to return to where I started, there really is something indiscriminate about this crisis. Just as the virus doesn’t discriminate – it isn’t a sentient enemy that chooses who it infects – we can choose not to discriminate in how we respond to it.
We are blessed with an NHS that is free to all at the point of access. Every day, we hear hugely inspiring stories of people selflessly treating and serving others, whoever they are.
For disciples of the Christ, this reflects the indiscriminate nature of God’s love, as witnessed in the life of Jesus of Nazareth – the one who embraced despised Samaritans, lepers, prostitutes, Roman soldiers and their quislings, even the dead. The one who today would be – and is – alongside rich and poor, poorly and well, anxious and afraid and, yes, supermarket panic-buyers too.
I saw a social-media post the other day that said: When this is all over, we won’t ask our churches how good their on-line streaming of worship services were, but “When I needed a neighbour, were you there?”
Being there for our neighbours, whoever they are, really does make life fair – because the best of love, just like a contagious virus in a pandemic, is both indiscriminate and universal.
“A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, as I have loved you…”