It was 252 AD - the city of Carthage was being overwhelmed by a terrible plague that had spread to the surrounding countryside. Hundreds had died – in a matter of weeks – and the rate of deaths was gaining momentum. Everyone was terrified of the silent unseen killer; most hid behind locked doors paralyzed by the fear of becoming infected. The deserted streets became makeshift morgues, as people tried to save themselves. A foul stench permeated everything, as the abandoned loved ones putrefied in the heat.
Bishop Cyprian called a meeting of all church members. Asking them to leave their homes and expose themselves to danger was expecting a lot – but he had to try. The city officials had long gone and now it was ‘everyone for themselves.’
Some members had already left town. Others refused to come.
“It’s better to lay low and hope for the best,” they reasoned. “Maybe, God will spare us.”
Others came with the hope that the Bishop had an evacuation plan and a refuge to go to.
“If the church can’t look after its own, what good is it?” they said.
Still others came, thinking it was time to pray for a miracle.
“Surely God will listen to us in this dark time. Besides, if we cannot get a miracle when we need it, what’s the point of being in the church?”
A minority came to help.
The meeting was in a large courtyard. Most stood alone, reluctant to risk contact. A panic threatened after a stray cough broke the silence. Then Bishop Cyprian began to speak.
“Thank you for coming. I know some of you are grieving and desperate for answers. I feel for those who could not or would not come, but I cannot say how much I admire you who have…
Brothers and sisters, this moment of our suffering is also our moment of truth. We say that we believe in Christ and His promises, the forgiveness of sins and life eternal – well today we can prove it. We cannot make people believe, but we can show them that we do. If they see us ‘practice what we believe’ they will understand that Jesus’ words make a difference in this world not just in the next…”
A stillness gripped the crowd as he continued.
“ ‘The Lord Jesus said, ‘Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake shall find it.’” Matthew 16:25
“People expect us to think only of ourselves, but following Jesus means taking a different path. And that’s why, brothers and sisters, I must ask you to do something very hard, and yet glorious…
Will you join me and become a ‘Gambler for Christ’? By this I mean, will you risk your life to remove and bury all the dead bodies and relocate the sick and dying where we can care for them? More of us will die, of that I’m certain. But remember, Jesus has defeated death – this life is not the end of our story…
Again I ask you, will you join me in risking all to show our fellow Carthaginians that Jesus cares?”
“We’re with you, Bishop Cyprian,” many shouted.
“Forgive us… for thinking only of ourselves,” said one of the leaders.
Only a few disappeared into the shadows, ashamed but too afraid to stay.
History honors those who sacrificed themselves for their neighbor. There are Christians doing the same thing today, and more may be needed if the Pandemic everyone fears does eventuate.