among the marginalised people today are those who round the
world are living with HIV/AIDS. Most of them are already poor,
made vulnerable to infection by their poverty.'
Paula Clifford from
Christian Aid offers a reflection about World Aids Day, which takes
place on December 1
'The Son of Man ...will separate people one from another as a shepherd
separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at
his right hand and the goats at the left.' (Matthew 25.31-2)
Can you tell sheep from goats? Is easy enough
in the UK where sheep have distinctive white fleeces. But in many
parts of the world the only way an amateur can tell them apart is
by whether their tails point upwards or downwards.
Yet it's an important distinction to make because sheep are more
valuable, and because goats need to have shelter at night if they
are to survive.
In Jesus' mini-parable recorded in Matthew's
gospel, the sheep signify the righteous, people who have shown love
in their lifetime, while the goats represent the unrighteous or
unloving. Only the shepherd can tell them apart, knowing the secret
places of their hearts. Only he knows who among us has truly shown
love to people who have been neglected or marginalised by society
- the poor and hungry, the prisoners, the sick.
Foremost among the marginalised people today
are those who round the world are living with HIV/AIDS. Most of
them are already poor, made vulnerable to infection by their poverty.
And in many countries the situation of people
who are HIV positive is made still worse by stigma - the theme of
this year's World AIDS Day. Stigma is born out of prejudice and
ignorance: people don't know how HIV is transmitted and fear they
might catch it themselves. So they shun - cruelly - those they think
are positive. Stigma forces people with HIV to keep quiet about
it, and as a result of their silence, and the silence of some churches
and governments, who deny that HIV is a problem in their countries,
HIV continues to spread at an alarming rate.
Vitalis, a young man in his 20s living in Njombe
in Tanzania, reveals how damaging stigma can be. He is HIV positive
but can't bring himself to tell his family or friends. And he is
not well enough to do much building construction work, which is
how he used to earn a living. He says, 'Sometimes I walk down the
street feeling totally isolated and suicidal'. Many of the people
he walks past are in the same situation as he is, but the widespread
silence and stigma means that they are unable to comfort and support
Stigma also has to do with perception. It means failing to recognise
in other people our shared humanity. It means failing to see in
them the face of Christ himself. Yet this is the great mystery of
the incarnation. Jesus loved the world so much that he chose to
become one of us. Not one of the affluent middle classes, but someone
who knew life as a refugee, who was thrown out of his home town,
who had nowhere to lay his head, who was wrongly condemned to death.
Those who have love in their hearts - whom Jesus
calls his sheep - will have no truck with stigma. To those whom
society rejects they will offer food, clothing, or simply their
own company. This World AIDS Day may we follow the example of the
sheep and not the goats.
''Lord, when was it that we saw you a stranger
and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it
that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you? ... The king
will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to
one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did
it to me"' (Matthew 25. 37-8, 40).
For World AIDS Day on 1 December Christian
Aid has produced a new booklet, Travellers' Tales: Journeying Alongside
people with HIV. It presents the stories of ten people from around
the world, some who are living with HIV themselves and others who
are caring for infected people in different ways. There are also
brief reflections and prayers and a suggested order of service for
groups or churches.
You can download