Jesus has AIDS.
Just reading that in the type in front of you probably has some of you angry. Let me help you see why that is, and, in so doing, why caring for those with AIDS is part of the gospel mandate given to us in the Great Commission.
The statement that Jesus has AIDS startles some of you because you know it not to be true. Jesus, after all, is the exalted son of the living God. He has defeated death in the garden tomb, and defeated it finally. Jesus isn’t weak or dying or infected; he’s triumphant and resurrected.
Yes, but, what we’re often likely to miss is that Jesus has identified himself with the suffering of this world, an identification that continues on through his church. Yes, Jesus finishes his suffering at the cross, but he also speaks of himself as being “persecuted” by Saul of Tarsus, as Saul comes after his church in Damascus (Acts 9:4).
Through the Spirit of Christ, we “groan” with him at the suffering of a universe still under the curse (Rom. 8:23,26). This curse manifests itself, as in billions of other ways, in bodies turned against themselves by immune systems gone awry.
That’s why the church is to suffer, continually, with Christ as we take his presence into the darkness of a fallen creation. The Apostle Paul says, then, “I rejoice then in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col. 1:24).
Some of Jesus’ church has AIDS. Some of them are languishing in hospitals right down the street from you. Some of them are orphaned by the disease in Africa. All of them are suffering with an intensity few of us can imagine.
Some of you are angered by the statement I typed above because you think somehow it implicates Jesus. After all, AIDS is a shameful disease, one most often spread through sexual promiscuity or illicit drug use.
Yes, but those are the very kinds of people Jesus consistently identified himself with as he walked the hillsides of Galilee and the streets of Jerusalem, announcing the kingdom of God. Can one be more sexually promiscuous than the prostitutes Jesus ate with? Can one be more marginalized from society than a woman dripping with blood, blood that would have made anyone who touched her unclean (Luke 8:40-48)? Jesus touched her, and took her uncleanness on himself.
AIDS is scandalous, sure. But not nearly as scandalous as a cross.
At the crucifixion stake, Jesus identifies himself with a sinful world (including the scandal of my sin). He was seen to be cursed by God (Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13). This is why it seemed so reasonable to the shouting crowds to curse him as a false Messiah, because only those rejected by God would ever be hanged on a tree. And that’s why the apostle Paul had to repeatedly insist that he was not “ashamed” of the cross. At Golgotha, Jesus became sin (though he never knew it himself) by bearing the sins of the world (2 Cor 5:21). Now that’s scandalous.
Moreover, some of you are angry because you believe that the statement I typed above is an affront to the dignity of the ruler of the universe. He doesn’t have some immune deficiency disease; he’s ruling from the right hand of God.
Yes, but we cannot see Jesus only in his Head but also in his Body, also in his identification with those he calls “the least of these, my brothers” (Matt. 25:40). Jesus isn’t right now hungry, is he? He isn’t naked, is he? He isn’t thirsty, is he? He isn’t in jail, is he? Well, yes, he is…in the nakedness, hunger, thirstiness, and imprisonment of his suffering brothers and sisters around the world.
When we stand in judgment, we’ll stand, Jesus tells us, accountable for how we recognized him in the trauma of those who don’t seem to bear the glory of Christ at all right now. We see Jesus now, by faith, in the sufferings of the crack baby, the meth addict, the AIDS orphan, the hospitalized prodigal who sees his ruin in the wires running from his veins.
I wonder how many of us will hear the words from our Galilean emperor, “I had AIDS and you weren’t afraid to come near me.”
And so, if we love Jesus, our churches should be more aware of the cries of the curse, including the curse of AIDS, than the culture around us. Our congregations should welcome the AIDS-infected, and we shouldn’t be afraid to hug them as we would hug our Christ. Our congregations should be on the forefront of missions to AIDS-ravaged regions of the world. Our families should be willing to welcome those orphaned by this global scourge.
Through it all, we should be insistent in gospel proclamation. To those whose blood has become their own enemy, we should announce blood they know not of, the blood of One who can cleanse them of all unrighteousness, just as it cleansed us (1 Jn. 1:7); the blood of One who is forever immune to sin and death and hell (Jn. 6:53-56).
Jesus loves the world, and the world has AIDS. Jesus identifies himself with the least of these, and many of them have AIDS. Jesus calls us to recognize him in the depths of suffering, and there’s AIDS there too.
Jesus has AIDS.
A version of this article originally ran on December 1, 2009.