Last February top executives from around the country and around the globe gathered for a conference in Boston.
For two days, as The Washington Post reports, “they shook hands, kissed cheeks, passed each other the salad tongs at the buffet.” They ate together, they drank together, they sat next to each other at meetings, and shared elevator rides.
At the end everyone boarded planes or got in their cars and went home, whether that was across the city or across the ocean.
It was, in short, an ordinary business gathering. Or so they thought.
But within two weeks of the conference those who attended started to become ill, and before long it became apparent that there had been an unknown invisible attendee at that February meeting — the coronavirus. Ultimately 97 of the 175 people there became ill.
In April the coronavirus swept through two Boston homeless shelters, infecting 122 residents.
A gathering of top executives in Boston and a shelter for the city’s most vulnerable would seem to have little in common.
But geneticists say the two are linked by Covid 19.
The virus that silently spread through that February conference had a genetic mutation which distinguishes it from other strands of the virus. I’m not about to try to explain the science, but the mutation has made it possible for researchers to track its spread.
The strand of virus that swept through the homeless shelter could be traced back to that conference. So could other outbreaks across Boston suburbs. It showed up in Indiana, North Carolina, and a small village in remote Alaska.
It traveled to Slovakia, France, Italy, Switzerland, Senegal, Australia, Luxembourg, and Singapore.
Scientists estimate that as many as 20,000 cases of Covid-19 have their roots at that February conference. And the number continues to grow.
This story about the coronavirus and how it spread from one meeting in Boston to around the globe is a perfect illustration of today’s scripture reading.
“Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body are one body, so it is with Christ,” Paul says. “There are many members, yet one body.”
Paul was writing to the Christian church in Corinth, a community that was divided over many issues — questions of theology and doctrine, questions of who was the most faithful, and who had the greatest gifts.
Paul refuses to join in the debates or take sides. Instead, he addresses all of the community, stressing that no one part is more important than the other, that all have a role to play, that the community as a whole cannot be healthy unless all of it is healthy.
Paul is talking to the church, but his message applies equally to other communities — whether they be global, national, or local.
The illness of a wealthy executive has implications for someone living in a homeless shelter in that town. An attendee of the conference in Boston leads to the sickness of someone in a village in Senegal who likely has never heard of that city.
We are connected in ways that we often do not understand. Our destinies are more intertwined than any of us realize.
Paul also reminds the community that God is the source of the variety and diversity within it. We may be tempted to think of differences as a barrier to unity, or to actually
use barriers to protect against diversity, but diversity is a gift from God.
“If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?” Paul asks. “If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?….If all were a single member, where would the body be?”
I began this week thinking of how this passage applied to our struggle against the coronavirus, but as the week went on I realized it equally applies to another virulent virus affecting the body of our nation — racial injustice played out in police brutality.
Once again this week we have seen an all-too-familiar scene unfold on our screens — the police shooting of a black man under at best questionable circumstances.
This time it was Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot seven times in the back at such close range that the officer who shot him was holding on to his gun with one hand and Blake’s shirt with the other. All of this as Blake’s three young children sat inches away.
Remarkably, Blake survived the shooting, but is in serious condition and paralyzed from the waist down. Despite that, police shackled him to his hospital bed until public outcry forced them to remove the restraints.
The shooting of Blake follows the recent police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and a long list of others.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,'” Paul says, “nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'”
But to many Black Americans that is exactly what they are hearing; that this country has no need of them, that their lives are cheap, that they do not matter.
That’s what Los Angeles Clipper’s basketball coach Doc Rivers was saying in a press conference this week.
“All you hear is (white people) talking about fear,” he said. “We’re the ones getting killed. We’ve been hung. We’ve been shot. And all you do is keep hearing (white people’s) fear.
“It’s amazing. Why do we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.”
Paul emphatically tells us that is wrong, and gives us the theological answer to those who are somehow offended by the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this.”
That is exactly why there is a Black Lives Matter banner hanging in front of St. Dunstan’s, and why many of us have plastered that message on our cars with bumper magnets proclaiming that this is what our church believes.
We live in a culture that all too often tells Blacks that they are not respected or honored, that we have no need of them. That message, and the actions that go with it, have caused enormous damage to generations of individuals and to the overall health of the body of this nation.
Black Americans need to hear in word and deed that their lives do matter, that we do have need of them.
What happens is Kenosha, Minneapolis, Louisville, and Atlanta has implications for us all. When one part of our nation is suffering, the entire nation is affected.
It is easy to be discouraged by all of this. But there is another side to this body metaphor. I’ve seen it this week in an ad for Uber, of all things.
“When you wear a mask, you protect Jin,” it begins. “Jin protects Chelsea; Chelsea protects Raphael; Raphael protects Jasmine; Jasmine protects Pat; Pat protects Nancy; Nancy protects Lauren; Lauren protects David.
“We protect each other.”
That is showing mutual care for one another. Maybe it can’t be traced by scientists, but that kind of care can spread as quickly as any virus.
We’ve also seen an antidote to the virus of racism that affects the body of our nation this week. lt’s courage, and it has come from some unlikely sources — professional athletes.
It started with a basketball team, the Milwaukee Bucks, who refused to take the court for a playoff game to show solidarity with those who are hurt and grieving in their home state.
That movement quickly spread to other professional basketball teams, men’s and women’s, to soccer, and to baseball.
I was moved to tears Thursday night as I watched what we thought would be a baseball game between the New York Mets and Miami Marlins. The players took the field, the pitcher went to the mound, the first opposing player came to the batter’s box.
And then everything stopped. In absolute silence players from both dugouts came and stood on the baselines. They removed their caps, bowed their heads, and stood in silence.
Then they tipped their hats to their opponents and quietly left the field, leaving a Black Lives Matter shirt on home plate.
Our professional athletes are saying something our national leaders need to hear.
Black, white, Asian, Latino all joined together to say we are one body. When one part of the body hurts we all hurt. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.
We are one body. It’s past time for us to care for one another.