Our reflection for the fourth week of Lent (10-16 March 2013) is written by Fr Bruce Botha SJ, a Jesuit priest working in Soweto, South Africa. His involvement with HIV ministry began as a novice working in an AIDS hospice; then directing a perinatal HIV counselling service in Soweto as a regent and then, as a newly ordained priest, directing a research project in the Johannesburg city centre on HIV prevalence among the urban homeless.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Is 55:8-9
There are many who, in the secret of their hearts, judged somebody deserving of infection because they disapproved of that person’s lifestyle or life choices. Many do not keep their judgements secret and are quite unashamed of saying that this or that person contracted the virus through their own fault and so now deserve to suffer and die. Maybe you have encountered people like these in your own life? The reading from the prophet Isaiah challenges us to open our eyes and see with God’s eyes. Even more, it challenges us to love as God loves, and to act as he would have us act.
The “good” Christian often makes God in his or her own image by projecting onto God his or her own lack of love, compassion and forgiveness. Because we cannot look at some of those who are infected with HIV with love, we cannot imagine God loving them. The failure lies not in God but in our own poverty of imagination, our own hardness of heart.
When AIDS first came to the attention of the world, the people most affected by the disease were men who had sex with men and haemophiliacs. It was not the churches who visited these men in hospitals and homes, nor the churches that clothed and fed them or held their hand while they were dying. Governments largely sat back and did nothing. It was members of the gay community who reached out to the ostracised sick and dying. Who then do you think was the neighbour to the one dying of AIDS?
When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan, those listening to him had to reluctantly agree that it was the people despised by and marginalised by the Jewish religious authorities who actually lived out the command to love better than any other. It was his way of opening the eyes, and hearts, of the religious authorities of his time, moving them a little in the direction of beginning to see with God’s eyes.
The religious authorities and elites disapproved of the people Jesus associated with. He was constantly condemned for associating with tax collectors and sinners. Condemned as a criminal, he died a shameful death. The good and holy people of his time thought he deserved it, that he brought it on himself by his outrageous behaviour. If you and I were there, what would we have thought? I would like to think we would have recognised Jesus and loved him, but maybe our eyes would have been closed by our preconceptions, our hearts hardened by our judgemental attitude.
The journey through Lent is an opportunity for us to acknowledge that we have not always looked at our brothers and sisters through the eyes of God, that we have been blind to the image of God in those we do not like or disapprove of. Lent enables us to see just that little bit more clearly and then, to begin to love a little better.
To read this reflection in French, please go here.
To read the reflection of the third week of Lent, please go here.
To read the reflection of the second week of Lent, please go here.
To read the reflection of the first week of Lent, please go here.
To read the reflection of Ash Wednesday, please go here.