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06 September 2006 @ 09:09 am
Who are the Unclean?  
I wrote this for the latest Acting on AIDS newsletter

Read Matthew 8:1-4 and Luke 5:27-32

There was tremendous stigma around leprosy during gospel times. Lepers were required to identify themselves with mourning clothes and by crying, “Unclean! Unclean!” when approaching others. Worst of all, they were isolated from community and required to live apart from others.

Who would be called “unclean” in today’s world? Many would point to those affected by HIV or AIDS. Motivated by fear, ignorance, or even self-righteousness, many people still stigmatize those living with HIV and their families, constructing walls to separate themselves from those who are deemed “unclean.”

Throughout his ministry, however, Jesus Christ tore down walls that separate. Whether healing the sick, talking to a Samaritan woman, or eating with sinners, Jesus ignored boundaries to invite others into communities. In fact, when Jesus ate with sinners and tax collectors in Luke 5, it is the Pharisees and religious leaders who criticized Him. Jesus’ ministry threatened their power and authority. If God saw them as equal to these sinners, what will then separate them?

But it is not by our personal righteousness that we are measured as equal but in our need for reconciliation with God. In Luke 5, Jesus answers the Pharisees by saying: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Today, it is easy to fall into the same temptation as the Pharisees. HIV-positive persons are often viewed as a modern-day leper – unclean and defined by physical, relational, or spiritual brokenness. We can choose either to ignore or to serve society’s outcasts, but either choice often keeps them in the margins when we choose not to identify with them. Like the Pharisees, it is easier to live in our own numbness when we keep others on the outside, so that even our good works, when coupled with self-righteousness, hide our own brokenness and ultimate need to surrender all to God.

God calls us to be with our brothers and sisters in need, without ignoring our own need for reconciliation with Him. We are all unclean, and we are all in need of Christ’s love, forgiveness, and healing. It is through this mutual need that we may learn to serve one another and find God the most. Consider what this means for your own life. How might this separation keep those the world or religion call “unclean” out of community? What are our personal areas of brokenness and how might we hand those over to Jesus?