In the early church, followers of Jesus took his words seriously.
In John 13:34-35 we read the words that we revisit every Maundy Thursday, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (NIV).
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, we have records that Christ followers put their own lives at risk to care for the sick and the dying during pandemic conditions.
In 165-180AD, a plague now believed to be smallpox, became a pandemic known as the Antonine Plague. Five Million people died from it.
In 251-266AD, the Plague of Cyprian spread from person to person from Africa throughout the entire known world. This plague was transmitted by person to person contact and from touching or using clothes that were infected by sick people. Half or the people who caught this plague died.
When these pandemics happened, officials from the governments and wealthy citizens fled for their lives, leaving the cities and escaping to the countryside in order to keep out of contact with those who were infected.
The Christians stayed behind and became caretakers for those who were infected, putting their own lives at great risk, and many of them did in fact die in the process.
Bishop Dionysius of Corinth praised the efforts of these Christians in an Easter Sunday message in 260 AD: “Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves, and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains”.
The early Christians’ dedicated themselves to Jesus teachings, caring for their neighbors as themselves, even during times of sickness and pandemics.
In Matthew 10 we see Jesus sending his disciples out on their mission. The followers of Jesus were commanded to “proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
The mission hasn’t changed, have the disciples?