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?

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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 https://mwc-cmm.org/resources/2020-covid-19-fund-appeal. UNICEF, various denominations, and other entities have worthy fund appeals. Get involved!

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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 https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2021-egypt/ 

“Journey of Hope” (Jordan, Israel and Palestine, September 12-23, 2021). See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2021-jordan-israel-palestine/   

“Thy Kingdom Come” (Jordan, Israel, Palestine, May 26-June 6, 2022compatible with Oberammergau Passion Play, June 6-8). See https://www.tourmagination.com/tour/2022-jordan-palestine-israel/

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