Baby Jesus in the vaccine queue

Pigeons for sale by a street vendor in the West Bank city of Hebron

Arrival of COVID-19 vaccines is wonderful news, but there is a sober side to the story: wealthy or influential individuals and nations will receive the life-giving protection first. CNN reports (December 9) that “Rich countries have bought enough Covid-19 vaccine doses to immunize their populations three times over . . . but developing countries are being left behind.” In sixty-seven poorer nations, “just one in ten people can hope to receive a vaccine by the end of next year.” More poor people than rich will suffer and die.

Two young pigeons for sale by a street vendor in the West Bank city of Hebron remind me of the economic hardship Joseph, Mary and Jesus faced. The Christ child’s first bed was a feeding trough. Humble shepherds from nearby fields were the first to visit. We know for certain the holy family was poor because they brought a poor persons’ offering when Mary went to the temple for ritual purification forty days after Jesus’ birth.

The Law of Moses declared that such a ritual required animal sacrifice and cleansing by a priest. A lamb was the standard offering for a new mother to bring. But if she were poor she could bring “two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering” (Leviticus 12:8).

Joseph and Mary took the low-income option (Luke 2:24). Then, according to Matthew, they fled as political refugees to Egypt. Paranoid King Herod had heard that a king—a potential rival—had been born in Bethlehem. Massacre ensued. With few economic resources, the new parents and child had to run for their lives.

Two years ago I was part of a Mennonite World Conference team of four who visited refugee camps in a country at war. Dozens of refugees told stories I can never forget: husbands beheaded in front of their families, women raped, villages burned, childbirth in the jungle. Mennonite Central Committee, a relief arm of the Mennonite church, was present to help provide basic physical needs. Medical services were minimal in that part of the world, and medical supplies scarce. I wonder when COVID vaccines will reach such people.

I do not want to feel guilty if I survive to get the vaccine. But I feel responsible to join voices with others calling for equitable distribution. Wealthy nations can help make that happen. If baby Jesus were born today, I expect he would be in a poor country or perhaps in a refugee camp. Where would he be in the vaccine queue?


There are ways people who care about COVID justice can help. Multiple Mennonite agencies have collaborated to raise money for immediate COVID-related needs around the world, and you can contribute at UNICEF, various denominations, and other entities have worthy fund appeals. Get involved!


Come with me to Bible lands! At this point no one knows what travel will be possible in the next year or two. But when COVID-19 subsides, I would love to have you join me on a pilgrimageIn 2021 and 2022: 

Bread for the Journey” (Egypt and Jordan, April 9-21, 2021).  See 

“Journey of Hope” (Jordan, Israel and Palestine, September 12-23, 2021). See   

“Thy Kingdom Come” (Jordan, Israel, Palestine, May 26-June 6, 2022compatible with Oberammergau Passion Play, June 6-8). See

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