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WHO warns about a new viral outbreak: A Maundy Thursday meditation

April 6, 2023 -

A fruit bat hangs upside down from a tree branch. Such bats can transmit the Marburg virus. © By arrowsmith2/stock.adobe.com

A fruit bat hangs upside down from a tree branch. Such bats can transmit the Marburg virus. © By arrowsmith2/stock.adobe.com

A fruit bat hangs upside down from a tree branch. Such bats can transmit the Marburg virus. © By arrowsmith2/stock.adobe.com

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the World Health Organization is reporting another outbreak of a contagious viral disease. In this case, the threat is the Marburg virus now spreading in Africa. In the past, case fatality rates have varied from 24 percent to 88 percent (which contrasts with a 1.1 percent COVID-19 mortality rate in the US). The Marburg virus can spread from contaminated surfaces and materials as well as through direct contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, including the deceased. No vaccines or antiviral therapies have been approved to treat the virus.

The good news is that the Marburg virus in its current form is not as contagious as SARS-CoV-2 and is therefore unlikely to become a pandemic. So long as the current outbreak is limited to regions of Africa, I would guess that it will receive little attention in the American press.

What doesn’t affect us personally seldom impacts us personally.

Here’s a second example: an ax attack at a day care center yesterday killed four children and injured at least four others. When I learned that the tragedy occurred in Brazil and not the US, I confess that it felt less personal to me.

Here’s a third example: a Milwaukee judge won a high stakes Wisconsin Supreme Court race Tuesday, making it likely that the court will support abortion rights in the state. Some pro-abortion activists want to use victories such as the vote in Wisconsin to bar any restrictions on abortion.

As a pro-life supporter, these stories are tragic to me. However, since I live in Texas, where pro-life legislators are in the majority, they feel less personal than they would if I lived in Wisconsin.

Jesus’ problem

As I noted, what doesn’t affect us personally seldom impacts us personally. You and I will be eternally grateful that Jesus doesn’t feel the same way.

On this day in Holy Week, our Savior chose not only to die for us but to die in the most horrific manner imaginable. As I noted yesterday, he could easily have fled from Jerusalem and escaped the authorities. But his Father sent him to be “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only  but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

Here was his problem: since Scripture had prophesied his death by crucifixion (cf. Psalm 22:16), he could not die at the hands of the Jewish authorities since their manner of execution was through stoning (cf. Stephen’s martyrdom, Acts 7:58). However, Jesus had done nothing worthy of Roman arrest and execution.

It was the Jewish authorities who saw him as a threat to their status and authority (cf. John 12:9–11). But Jesus was so popular that they feared an uprising if they tried to arrest him and then persuade the Romans to execute him.

Jesus’ solution

So, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, the one place where he knew the authorities could find him: “Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons” (John 18:2–3).

Jesus did this under cover of darkness so the crowds would not know and revolt. After the Jewish authorities could not find a legal way to convict him (Matthew 26:59–60), they illegally demanded that he incriminate himself (vv. 62–63). He then announced his status as the Son of God (v. 64) so they could convict him of the capital crime of blasphemy (vv. 65–66).

When he was then taken to Pilate, the religious authorities changed their accusation from blasphemy (which the secular Roman governor would not have acted upon) to insurrection. Despite knowing that Jesus was innocent (Luke 23:4), Pilate sought to save himself by sentencing the Savior to die (Matthew 27:24–26).

Even then, Jesus knew that Pilate had no “authority” over him (John 19:11). As the song says, he could have called ten thousand angels to his side to overthrow the Romans and free himself. But he chose all of this when he prayed on Maundy Thursday in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

As a result, he would die for sins he did not commit and sinners who were not yet alive. Including you and me.

Eight words that will change your life

Since Jesus’ disciples were asleep, no one heard his prayer but his Father. Thus we can know that his prayer is recorded as a model for us when we meet our own Gethsemane.

C. S. Lewis noted in The Problem of Pain: “From the moment a creature becomes aware of God as God and of itself as itself, the terrible alternative of choosing God or self for the center is opened to it.” This is “the fall in every individual life, and in each day of each individual life, the basic sin behind all particular sins.”

The best way we can express our gratitude for our Savior’s decision to die for us is for us to choose to live for him. “Not as I will, but as you will” are eight words that will change your life and your world.

To this end, let’s make this prayer by Anglican scholar Edwin Hatch our own:

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Blend all my soul with Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.

Will your life “glow with fire divine” today?

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