This passage introduces two different people:
the powerful judge and the powerless widow
There are many
stories in the Bible that contrast a seemingly powerless person with one
whom appears to be very powerful. But in this story the widow is not
really powerless for she possesses a strong will and a brave heart. She
is not easily discouraged by a powerful opponent and she believes in her
cause because she is fighting for justice.
characteristics have to come together as well if we want to fight
against the Goliath or our time -- HIV/AIDS.
As people of faith we believe that it is just to
fight against discrimination, to fight for a just sharing of resources
so that all people wherever they happen to live on this globe have the
same access to prevention, care and treatment. This conviction should
also give us the courage to stand up and persistently approach those who
oppose just solutions, whether in the churches, the industry or the
Jesus told the
parable of the powerful judge and the powerless widow because he wanted
to teach his disciples an important lesson about God and about the
persistence of prayer.
He said: if even an
unjust judge will listen to persistent interventions, how much more will
God listen to you.
This is true. I
wonder how many people pray fervently day and night at this time because
they mourn about loved ones who died and because they are asking God
when all this suffering will end.
When we pray we are
assured that God will listen. Are we not seeing signs that the tide
might be finally turning, that churches are waking up, that global
solidarity is increasing and that AIDS will finally be overcome?
We are not there
yet, we have to continue to pray and to work hand in hand together with
churches, other organizations and all people of good will.
Let us ask for God’s
blessings for our future work.
(contributed by Dr.
Christoph Benn, Germany)
The woman who was bleeding…and touched Jesus
You would probably not have noticed the woman in the crowd that day. Had
you done so, you might later have remarked on her frailty. She seemed to
you to be so very thin, with almost a shadow-like quality about her. You
had the impression that perhaps she is ill.
Had you spoken to
her she would have told you that she has in fact been ill for many
years. She has gone to doctor after doctor. It is a disease of the
blood, they say. She has spent all her money on what medications she can
afford. But nothing has helped. She has come to realize that, for her,
there is no cure.
The woman lives in
the city now, although that is not where she is from nor where she grew
up. When she became ill her family sent her away; thought it best that
her children not live with her; even her neighbours and friends in the
church turned their backs – literally -- to her.
She found the
loneliness and isolation to be the hardest. Sometimes she thought it
would be the pain in her heart, not the disease of her body that would
finally kill her. How she longed to go home, back to her family, her
children, her community and her church. But she knew that it was not
She could not have
told you what it was that made her notice the man in the crowd that day
– his voice perhaps, or, a certain charisma – she knew only that she
must be near him and began moving, pushing, elbowing her way through the
crowd (most unlike her!) knowing only that she had to be near to him.
She did not mean to reach out and touch his cloak, but when she did she
knew: with this man she would be safe….feel safe…..become whole again,
and without thinking and not even able to explain why, she reached out
and touched his cloak.
“ Who touched me?”
Her lips said
nothing and just as her heart opened its mouth to speak she heard other
voices, male voices, filling the space :
“ It was nothing.”
“Just the push of
“We have work to do.
Let ‘s keep moving.”
But again she heard
his voice, “Who touched me?”
And when he saw her he turned to her, his
voice so kind, so gentle, speaking and listening only to her. “ My
sister, what is it?”
He stopped and
looked around, aware that something had happened. “Who touched me?” he
asked. But his friends made light of it, insisting that in such a press
of people he was mistaken. But he knew - someone had reached out to him,
in fact had taken power from him by a touch. He looked around, and then
he saw her, shaking with fear.
It was amazing. He
was unlike any man that she had ever known. So attentive. So present.
Within the crowd he made her feel as if he were there for her alone. He
took time for her. He listened to her. His voice was so gentle, so kind:
"My sister. What is it?" And after so many years of fear and silence she
was able to tell him her story; to finally put words to the suffering
and grief of herself, her family and her community and of her need for
healing and wholeness, if not for a cure. Of the sense of safety and
refuge that she felt with him.
It is a story that
we can hardly comprehend – statistics that we hear but do not understand
– a reality of such immensity and need that we need to break them down
into names, communities, personal stories sewn into an immense quilt of
aching grief and loss.
But we also cannot
shy away from the numbers….
-over 40 million people in the world are living with HIV/AIDS
-over 1.5 million of them are children younger than 15 years.
-worldwide one in every 100 adults aged 15 to 49 is HIV infected.
-there are approximately 16,000 new infections every day, many of
-in South Africa it is estimated that by the year 2010 the life
expectancy of adults will fall from 60 to 40 years because of the
effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Behind all of these
statistics of course are the names and individual stories of women and
men, youth and children, whose life situations, cultural practices, the
silence of leaders and churches and the crushing reality of poverty make
From Southern Africa:
It is the teenage
girl whose marriage to an older infected man has been arranged and about
which she has no choice (a practice now known as death by marriage)
which will lead to the death of her husband, herself and their children.
It is her friend who
due to peer pressure and cultural practices will have her first sexual
experience by the time she is 12.
It is the elderly
couple – grandparents and great-grandparents - themselves in failing
health - whose adult children have all died or are ill, and who have
the care of all their grandchildren and some of the AIDS orphans of the
community who they cannot and will not send away
It is the land lying
fallow because there is no one who is healthy enough to plant and till
resulting in starvation and increased hardship for the community.
It is the husband
who in an economic situation where there are few options and fewer
choices has to leave home for weeks and months to seek work and returns
It is the pastor who
cannot remember the last time he held a Christian education class or
baptized a baby that was not HIV positive…and whose ministry now
consists of conducting funerals and consoling the grief-stricken.
It is the clinics
and hospitals where there are no medicines, but now no health workers
either because they are too ill to come to work, or have died.
It is the schools
which sit empty because the teachers are ill.
It is the churches
which refuse to discuss sexuality and human weakness and confuse a
medical diagnosis with a moral judgement.
It is the fear of
too many to tell their families, their friends, and especially their
churches because they believe they will be judged, rejected and sent
It is the
unwillingness to break the silence by pastors who conduct many funerals
but still insist that no one in their parish is dying of HIV/AIDS.
We, the church, are
the body of Christ in the world. Is that what draws people – in need,
suffering, dying of AIDS, somehow believing, somehow knowing that here
they will find refuge, safety, understanding and, if not cure, then
healing and wholeness?
We, the church, are
the body of Christ is the world, and for years we have felt the tug on
our cloak. We have known, We have looked up, We have asked, what was
But we are also the
disciples, not looking and not seeing, so deep into our own fears of
this disease that we say to ourselves, "It is nothing:" There is such a
press of the crowd that we try to ignore and move on. We d not stop, or
look and listen. We miss the opportunity to be the refuge and place of
safety and hospitality that we are called to be.
Why must the church
respond to AIDS? Because the church has AIDS.
This is true not
only because in every congregation, in every community, there is a
person, a family who are dealing with the grief of illness and treatment
and in most of the world certain death.
It is also true,
though, because more than any other issue or any other disease, the
reality of HIV/AIDS calls us back to the very essence of what it means
to be the church as the body of Christ in the world.
society – and especially the church – with challenges which go straight
to the very essence and life of the church, challenges which churches
are not good at dealing with and on which the suffering of so many with
AIDS now insists:
-and what are those challenges to the church?
The first is that in order to be the body of
Christ in the world we must stop and turn when we feel the tug on our
cloak. We must be ready to do as Jesus did, to listen to the story and
provide a place of acceptance, of safety, of refuge, and of healing.
The second is that
the church does not easily sit at the side of a person with AIDS because
it means sitting at the side of so many issues with which the church is
not comfortable, and around which the church has built many theological
and moral defense mechanisms and phobias – phobias which distance the
church from those who are most needy, most lonely, most desperate…those
whose need to reach out and touch the cloak of Jesus is greatest.
And what are these
areas around which the church has created almost impregnable defenses–
which are so hard for us as people of God to talk about and deal with -
and which keep the church from responding to the tug on the cloak of
those who are most in need of Jesus compassion and grace?
-sexuality and especially youth sexuality
-the reality of prostitutes and homosexuality
-the sad and difficult lives and choices of those with drug
-prejudices about immigrant and migrant populations
-and perhaps most centrally, prejudices about being present and
active in non-religious and non-church spaces and places.
The draped red
ribbon has become the universal symbol of solidarity for those suffering
from HIV/AIDS and a sign of hope that the epidemic will one day be
overcome. Hundreds of thousands of ribbons have been worn by people all
over the world to keep the HIV/AIDS epidemic and its sufferers in the
consciousness of the world.
To drape the AIDS
ribbon around the cross eloquently reminds all who see it of the deep
compassion of Jesus for all who suffer from HIV/AIDS. It is also a sign
of the solidarity and commitment of the church to those who are affected
by HIV/AIDS, their families and their communities.
The extent to which
it is also a sign of the resurrection hope which we are promised and
which we proclaim will depend upon the willingness of the church to be
the body of Christ in the world, and to drape itself with the reality of
AIDS as it is known in too many names and faces around the world..
We are the body of
Christ in the world. The reality of HIV/AIDS tugs at our cloak. What
will our response be? Will we as the disciples move on unwilling to stop
and convincing ourselves it is just the press of the crowd?
Or will we turn,
with utter compassion, not afraid look into the face of those who seek
the church and say” My sister, my brother, my daughter, my son. What is
(contributed by Rev.
Dr. Rebecca Larson, based on the Buenos Aires Declaration)
Samuel 17: 17-51
David and Goliath
The story of David and Goliath, is not new to us.
David on the battlefield with Goliath (I Samuel 17). Goliath the
champion of the Philistines, a giant, armed to the teeth. The weight of
his armour is about two hundred pounds (vv. 5-7). Imagine facing such a
warrior, such an enemy. No wonder Saul and his people are frightened
when Goliath shouts at them, bullies them and challenges them to come
and fight him.
All are frightened
but one young shepherd boy, David, who sizes up this pagan giant in
light of God’s righteousness and power. How dare Goliath shake his fist
in the face of God, because to David, when you insult God’s people, you
insult God Himself. And David, full of confidence, because he had seen
God’s power at work and his deliverance while tending his father’s sheep
when these were attacked by a bear or a lion, volunteers to fight
Goliath. That’s why he says: “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that
he should taunt or defy the armies of the living God?” (v. 26). David
wonders why everyone is afraid of the giant as if God doesn’t hear his
insults and care for His name. Goliath may be big in the eyes of the
Israelites but surely not to God. David looks at the frightening and
threatening situation through the Lord’s eyes and is able to see beyond
How does he prepare
himself for the battle? Of course he needs a go ahead of the king. Saul
thinks David is too young to fight a man like Goliath because unlike
David, he has forgotten what it is like to fight in the Lord’s strength.
Saul sees only a giant (like us we just see the millions of people dying
or living with HIV/AIDS), while David sees only the Lord. And then Saul
tries to clothe David with his war garments to make him an equal of
Goliath. One would wonder why he didn’t wear them himself to fight their
enemy? But they are too heavy for David; instead of helping him and
offering protection, they would be a hindrance. He decides to take them
There are two
opponents: one big man, fully armed, and the other a teenager with
nothing but a stick, a sling and a few stones.
Just as we are
battling AIDS, this is no sporting game. It is a war which has been
going on for 40 days and Goliath is fully equipped to battle the
children of Israel. Imagine his reaction when he sees a young boy
walking towards him not even clothed and armed as a true soldier should
be. His words express very well his feelings of the moment: “Am I a dog,
that you come to me with sticks? Come to me, (I will show you!) and I
will give your flesh to the birds of the sky and the beasts of the
field.’ (vv. 43-44).
How would you have
felt were you in David’s shoes? I would have fled back to safety, but
not David. He doesn’t let Goliath, his insults or his war equipment
intimidate him. Listen to his reply, “You come to me with a sword, a
spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of
hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted. This day
the Lord will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down
and remove your head from you…so that all the earth may know that there
is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord
does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and
He will give you into our hands”. (vv.45-47). Wow! What a powerful
testimony! I love his assurance. It comes from someone who has an
intimate relationship with God.
We are facing an
enormous giant today. HIV/AIDS is our Goliath. As Goliath was a real
threat to Israel, so is AIDS to our world today. One Congolese singer
said that AIDS has no colour - blacks die but also whites, and people of
other colours. It has no age - children die of AIDS, and adults do too.
Illiterate people in remote villages die but also university scholars,
poor people and rich ones. To tell you the truth, when I look at the
statistics of people dying of AIDS, or those who are HIV positive, I get
discouraged. What can the church do? What can the Ecumenical Advocacy
Alliance do? What can even UNAIDS do?
Then I remember
David and that the battle is the Lord’s not ours. Our part is to trust
God and God's power as David did. He was not a superman, he just trusted
God! Do we trust Him even when people are perishing around us? Because
our God specialises in hopeless situations and in weaknesses.
confidence and boldness enrages Goliath who expected David to shy or run
away but instead runs to him, within range, loads his sling and throws
the stone right between Goliath’s eyes. A perfect strike. He didn’t miss
the target. What the Ecumenical Alliance needs, what the churches and
UNAIDS need is to strategically plan our battle against this giant. We
can’t do it in isolation, because facing alone giants is a frightening
experience. We have to co-ordinate our efforts. Fighting HIV/AIDS is a
lonely experience for anyone living with AIDS. However they need our
support, our love and care. They too need to take their place in this
battle with all the skills and knowledge that they have to offer. And
together we have to trust God, for trusting God’s power is a
We can’t ignore it
nor run away from it as millions do; closing our eyes or putting
earplugs won’t send HIV/AIDS away. We have to learn how to face it
head-on as many are already doing, not in our own strength but in faith
and confidence, like David. And by the way, David didn’t face Goliath
completely unarmed. He had a sling and knew how to use it. So, I trust
that our plans of action, our resources and commitment are our weapons.
And the Word of God is our best weapon.