My attention was caught by an article in Ekklesia yesterday, it was about a South African pastor, Xola Skosana who has caused some controversy by preaching a sermon entitled “Jesus was HIV positive.”
The point was not to suggest that Jesus was promiscuous, as most of Skosana’s critics have assumed, in fact, the sermon was not even meant to be taken literally, or as a factual statement, but as a message about Christ attitude to suffering, shame and stigma and his call for compassion.
Skosana, whose two sisters died of AIDS, said he wanted to break down the stigma which deters people from being tested in the country with the highest rates of worldwide infection. He also wanted to demonstrate that Jesus came to earth to participate in human shame and suffering. Using the quote,
“ I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me”,
Skosana explained that God put himself in the position of the marginalised. From the beginning to end of his life, Jesus dwelt among poverty, fear, stigma, shame and disease. He not only touched the leper, he was himself suspect; he was born to shame and illegitimacy, lived amongst the poor, and died an ignominious criminal.
Why can’t people cope with challenge to their ideas about God and humanity? In Open to Judgement Rowan Williams writes,
“This is the solitude of truth, the solitude, finally, of God; God as spastic child who can communicate nothing but his presence and his inarticulate wanting.”
This comparison of God to a disabled child provoked anger among some, but I don’t know why. Don’t people understand that analogies and metaphors are not meant to be definitive statements, much less deliberate insults, but that they are meant as starting points to make us struggle and search for meaning – to challenge us?
Jesus constantly challenged people by using analogies that shocked or surprised. Perhaps we are too familiar with the gospels to see how shocking the whole thing is. The Christian story is not polite or sanitised. The idea that God would be born in all that blood and shit, be touched by lepers and whores, tried, found guilty, spat upon, tortured, broken, and killed is pretty shocking! Just as shocking is the act of bursting through the stench of decay of death, not imaginary death, but real, visceral, physical death.
Perhaps we do need to be shocked a bit more; perhaps the idea of Jesus with HIV is just the kind of positive message we need.
(Above: Guido Rocha's sculpture "The tortured Christ"
Left: South African schoolchild's red AIDS ribbon picture, the text reads "Love them all equal HIV positive or not.")