Not long ago, my wife, my two young daughters and I had reason to get tested for Covid-19. We went out of an abundance of caution—my wife and I have been vaccinated for a long time, though our children are still too young to qualify. Thus, our concern—and our caution.
The testing site available to us that day was a community center located in a busy part of Baltimore, just north of downtown. The center provides a number of services to the local community, including hot lunches, job training, and more.
We arrived in our family car, darting in and out of traffic, eyes peeled for a place to park.
“There’s the line,” I said, and my wife nodded. She tucked our bulky SUV neatly into a tight spot, and we unloaded the kids, a mask for the three-year-old, a hope and a prayer for the one-year-old.
“Long line,” I grumbled.
“It’s moving fast,” my wife said.
A man with a clipboard greeted us as we crossed the street and headed toward the alley, jostling with folks who had a similar destination in mind.
“Covid tests?” I asked. The man smiled, nodded.
But the line was moving too fast. When we’d parked, the line had been static; now, it was in constant motion. There was a nurse hanging out a window, masked and gloved, handing something out to the people as they approached.
Was this the registration? People took what she gave them and wandered off.
“This is the lunch line,” my wife said, realization dawning. “This isn’t for tests.”
“But that man pointed us here,” I protested.
Hadn’t he heard my question?
Did we look like we needed a hot lunch?
That was the question on my mind as we circled the building, finding the entrance on the other side of the block—the entrance for Covid tests. And there, we did have a bit of a wait.
Enough time to reflect on my own biases.
Today’s second reading from James is an indictment of my own attitude. “Show no partiality,” the text insists before going on to reprimand those who pass judgments based on appearance: fine clothes versus shabbier outfits.
That man with the clipboard had it right. I was the one assuming my outward appearance—that sleek SUV, my wife and kids, my nice(ish) clothes—would set me apart from those others in the alleyway. Would insist to the world that I didn’t need a hot lunch. That I was somehow better.
In the Gospel, Jesus orders those present for his miraculous healing of the deaf man to tell no one. I’ve always been puzzled by this—Why wouldn’t Jesus want his miracles known?
Maybe it’s because Jesus knew we’d be tempted to sort ourselves into the healed and the sick. We’d be tempted to act as though God loved some of us more than others, to think better of ourselves at the expense of our neighbor.
That, of course, is not how God works. And it certainly isn’t how God’s dream for our world is realized.
Eric Clayton is the deputy communications director at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, responsible for developing and sharing resources and reflections to promote Ignatian spirituality. He is the author of the forthcoming book Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press). He and his wife are both graduates of Fairfield University and live in Baltimore, MD, with their two daughters. Follow his writing at ericclaytonwrites.com.