Open and honest: a reflection for Lent
Fr Ted is a British Jesuit who spent decades pioneering social change in Zimbabwe. Among his many achievements is his visionary response to the AIDS crisis in this country. He co-founded the Jesuit AIDS Project (JAP) in 1997 to stem the destruction caused by AIDS by reaching young people through peer education. He is currently a resident of the Corpus Christi Jesuit Community in Boscombe, Dorset. Here he reflects on the gospel reading for last Sunday in this, the fourth week of Lent.
“As Jesus went along he saw a man who had been blind from birth....” (Jn 9:1)
In the gospel of the fourth Sunday of Lent (30 March) we have the account of the man who was born blind and was cured by Jesus. But his parents did not want to acknowledge what had happened to him “out of fear of Jews who had already agreed to expel from the synagogue anyone who should acknowledge Jesus as the Christ”.
This gospel is about honesty and acknowledgement. Jesus challenges the Pharisees who said they were not blind while in fact they had blinkers on the eyes of their souls.
A great challenge today is about openness related to HIV/AIDS. We are encouraged to be open to lessen the risk to others and so that those who need can get the necessary help. We must try to do away with the stigma that still persists, if those in need are to accept their situation and seek help.
One of my earlier contacts with people living with HIV, back in 1995, was with George. He volunteered to work with our AIDS Counselling Trust. He and his partner were the first persons in Zimbabwe to go on television and admit they were HIV-positive. This was in the early days, when the stigma was so great that nobody wanted to admit this condition, especially as antiretroviral drugs were not available yet. HIV was still a death penalty. So we accept how brave these two people were in this situation.
When staff of the Jesuit AIDS Project (JAP) were going round the schools teaching about AIDS, George and his wife would come with us and tell the pupils what it was like to be HIV-positive. This message had a tremendous impact and helped substantially to initiate anti-AIDS clubs in the schools. After a couple of years George died, but thank God his wife and two children survived. We may think it was a tragedy, and it was, but it was also a spiritual blessing for them. Their way of life was transformed: they got married in church and had their children baptised and George spent the rest of his life helping others.
I was asked to preach at George’s funeral in the Cathedral in Harare and was able to praise the stand he had made and his valuable work in helping others to see the pitfalls and avoid them.
What is also wonderful about this gospel is that we learn that Jesus used material things to help cure the man. He made a paste with his spittle and soil and anointed the man’s eyes and told him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam. The blind man did and he was cured. Now Jesus could have cured him by a word, as he did with another blind man. But here he shows us the use of material means, which today could translate into antiretroviral and other drugs. This needs intensive work in research and administration of medicines. It also emphasises the major part of Christ's teaching for us to love and care for one another especially in times of great need.
When the man who was cured told the Jews they would not believe him and threw him out. Jesus went to find him to ask him if he believed. Then Jesus revealed himself to him and the man said: “Lord, I do believe.” We too can say this and add, “Help my unbelief.”
Click here for more Lenten reflections from the African Jesuit AIDS Network