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Jesus’ provocative inclusive love – the cure for stigma

Our reflection for Holy Thursday is written by Fr Lawrence KyaligonzaSJ from St Joseph the Worker Parish in Kangemi, Nairobi.

Holy Thursday is an important day for us to reflect on Jesus’ love for us, love that is provocatively inclusive. I call it a ‘provocative inclusive’ type of love because Jesus’ love for humanity did not and does not exclude anyone; it includes everyone!

At the Chrism mass, in Luke’s Gospel, we read how Jesus describes his mission at the beginning of his public ministry: “The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour” (Lk 4:18-19).

Jesus had a special place for outcasts in his ministry. He came to bring the good news to those who had been excluded by society: the poor, the sick and sinners. Jesus spent most of his time healing the sick, forgiving sinners, and proclaiming God’s kingdom that includes everyone. When Jesus restored their dignity as equal human beings, those who were rejected and stigmatized once again felt included. This did not please the ‘righteous’ people of his time who believed in a kingdom that kept out sinners, the sick, and the poor.

During the evening mass of the Lord’s Supper, we celebrate the institution of the Holy Eucharist (1 Cor. 11: 23-26). Jesus offers his body and blood in the form of bread and wine for his disciples to eat and drink. This brings to mind how Jesus multiplied bread and fish to feed multitudes of hungry people during his ministry. Certainly, the people whom he fed were not all ‘righteous’; some must have been sinners, others poor or sick. So comfortable was Jesus eating and drinking with those who had been excluded that he was accused of being a glutton and a friend of outcasts.

At the last supper, Jesus gave his body and blood to all his disciples even though he knew that in a few hours one was going to betray and another to deny him, while the rest would run away. When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he didn’t leave anyone out. The last supper was an inclusive celebration. Jesus knew what was going to happen yet he did not hesitate to demonstrate his love for his disciples – an inclusive love. Until the end of his life on earth, Jesus remained faithful to his mission of proclaiming God’s love in deed and in word.

Holy Thursday is an invitation for us to re-think our lives as children of one family of God. Does our love include everyone? Unfortunately, most of us still love exclusively. We love only our relatives, people of our tribe or race, and our friends. Our love excludes people who are different from us, those who do not share our same values and convictions. Our love still excludes those we consider to be sinful and impure.

Millions of people in our world still feel stigmatized because of their HIV-positive status. In Kangemi (Nairobi), where I work, some HIV-positive people cannot reveal their status because they are afraid of being rejected by their friends and relatives. Sadly, they cannot come to our facility, Uzima, for medical, psychosocial and nutritional support because of stigma. Some are members of our Church and so they die in hiding for fear of the reactions of their fellow Church members. AIDS is still seen as a disease for sinners. Yet, as followers of Christ, we ought to love as Jesus loved and continues to love – ours must be a kind of love that includes everyone.

Today Jesus is inviting us to proclaim liberty to captives, like those who feel chained by AIDS, and to set them free from their fears. We need God’s grace to liberate us from our tendency to exacerbate the condition of people who are already downtrodden by disease or injustice. Those of us who still think of AIDS as a punishment for sexual immorality need to be liberated from our puritanism. Instead of judging others, we are invited to be like Jesus, to wash their feet so that they too can find their place in our society as equal members, even if this might provoke negative reactions from the ‘saints’ of our time. Stigmatization is indeed a huge contradiction to our faith as followers of Christ. Loving exclusively is contrary to our faith. We contradict ourselves if we share the same bread and drink from one cup during the Holy Eucharist but then go back to treating others as outcasts because they are HIV-positive. Has the Eucharist ceased to be a symbol of unity and inclusive love?

To read this reflection in French, please go here.

To read the rest of reflections in the 2014 Lenten series, please go here.

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