Jesus? HIV? What?
So there is a big news story going around involving the country in which I currently live. Some folks are up in arms and others…aren’t.
Essentially, a South African pastor started off a sermon series stating, “Jesus was HIV+”.
However, as Pastor Skosana told those gathered in the modest Luhlaza High School hall for his weekly services, in many parts of the Bible Jesus put himself in the position of the destitute, the sick and the marginalised.
“Wherever you open the scriptures Jesus puts himself in the shoes of people who experience brokenness. Isaiah 53, for example, clearly paints a picture of Jesus who takes upon himself the infirmities and the brokenness of humanity,” he told the BBC.
He is also quick to emphasise that he is using the metaphor to highlight the danger of the HIV/Aids pandemic, which still carries a stigma in South Africa’s townships.
“Of course, there’s no scientific evidence that Jesus had the HI virus in his bloodstream,” says the pastor, whose non-denominational Hope for Life Ministry is part of a growing charismatic movement in South Africa.
“The best gift we can give to people who are HIV-positive is to help de-stigmatise Aids and create an environment where they know God is not against them, he’s not ashamed of them.” (from this BBC Article)
From the same article, local pastors here have reacted quite strongly:
“The subject of my Jesus being HIV-positive is a scathing matter,” he says.
“I believe no anointed leader with a sound mind about the scriptures and the role of Christ in our lives would deliberately drag the name of Christ to the ground.”
And foreigner pastors, bloggers, and others have reacted in a like manner:
De-stigmatising culture and sin is a dangerous thing. Don’t think this is too outlandish. This is happening here in the states as well; particularly in the area of homosexuality.
Making Jesus the poster child for your cause will never work.
Here’s an idea. Why don’t we stick to what Jesus actually said rather than try to conform him to our personality, bad habits and sin? (from here; google and you’ll find more)
I’ll be honest, the headline is a shocker — Jesus was HIV+. But once you get past that headline into the substance I don’t quite get the outrage.
The pastor is explicitly not saying that Jesus had HIV in a scientific sense. He identifies the statement as metaphor. Not only that, he outlines from where he got such a notion in the Bible: Isaiah 53.
He had no stately form or majesty that might catch our attention, no special appearance that we should want to follow him. He was despised and rejected by people, one who experienced pain and was acquainted with illness; people hid their faces from him; he was despised, and we considered him insignificant. But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain; even though we thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done.
I would throw into the mix a few other passages as well:
God made the one who did not know sins to be sin for us, so that in hims we would become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross! As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow — in heaven and on earth and under the earth — and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-10)
Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. Wet saw his glory — the glory of the one and only,t full of grace and truth, who came from the Father. (John 1:14)
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40)
With the context of the Isaiah passage, and these other passages, in mind I don’t really get the outrage. There are a couple of things about the outrage, in fact, that trouble me.
One of those things can be highlighted in the blogger passage above: the general equation of HIV+ status with sin. This is actually incredibly troubling to me because being HIV+ does mean one is sin. HIV often results from sin but this isn’t even always the case particularly in communities where its instance is so high (you have to take into account sanitation, available medical care, family history, etc); in many circumstances it can be of no general fault of the individual (many are even born with it). But this equation of HIV with sin has produced much of the stigmatization that the pastor in Khayelitsha is reacting against. It promotes an atmosphere where (a) people don’t talk about HIV at any level as it is shameful, (b) those known to have it are actively discriminated against and (c) those that have it feel shamed and as if they need to stay away from things like “church”. And it’s worth noting to whoever reads this that we work in Cape Town in a community often referred to as “Little Khayelitsha” and often see the stigmatization that Pastor Skosana talks about. The reality is that HIV is a sickness. It can be likened to the lepers of Jesus’ time. His response to such a people was love and compassion, and in the strictest sense of the incarnation we see in the above listed Bible passages, identification.
This also brings to mind the story of Jesus walking through a crowd where a woman, having bled for years due to what scholars say is most likely irregular, heavy menstrual cycles, touches Jesus and is healed because of it. Hers was a case similar to the HIV cases of today and is directly related to what Pastor Skosana speaks about. Her bleeding made her consistently unclean in a society that placed extreme value on purity. Any one that touched her or which she came in close contact with her defiled themselves and where likewise considered unclean. Because of this, you could liken her to an exile in her own society, not ever being able to have much close contact with people. Women saw her and thought “sin” because of purity issues but Jesus saw differently. By touching Jesus the woman was healed. And through that touch Jesus takes her condition — her uncleanliness — onto himself, becoming unclean as she was.
The other issue that troubles me about the outrage is it seems to be rooted in dualistic notions of Jesus that separate the spiritual and physical rather than seeing it as a whole thing. It’s easy to see the spiritual — Jesus as all powerful God — but we miss the heart of what happened in Jesus — God became as we are so that we might become as He intended. We don’t have salvation without the incarnation — God’s active identification with our situation. This seems to be so easy to miss, sadly, and when we do it breeds the religion that produces the stigmatization that Pastor Skosana is speaking against.
Anyways, for all those outraged, hopefully this is a little food for thought. Time prevents me from writing more now.