Sin and Sickness, Sexuality and Vulnerability
A Biblico-Theological Reflection
I have been tasked to talk about HIV-AIDs and sexuality. Match na match naman ang dalawang usapin, di ba? Parang dinuguan at puto, kape at pandesal, mangga at bagoong. Hindi matatapos ang usapin tungkol sa HIV-AIDS kung hindi paguusapan ang sex at sexuality.
I wonder if you have noticed this. We have so many words for the same thing or subject matter but these words have different meanings or messages to the hearer. For example, if you are rich you would call an irritation on your skin as an ‘allergy.’ But if you were poor, it would probably be called ‘galis.’ If somebody from the middleclass had a bad cough, we’d say, ‘may asthma.’ Kapag mahirap, maitim at payat, iniisip mo, ‘parang may ‘TB’ ito.’ Kapag ang isang lalaki ay maykaya at may pag-ka effeminate at talaga namang may kikay-kit pa, ang tawag ay ‘metro-sexual.’ Kapag poor ka, ‘beki’ or ‘bakla.’
When we talk about sex, social scientists use terms such as extra-marital sex, premarital sex, group sex, multiple partners. But in the Bible and in our churches, we use the words, ‘adultery,’ ‘fornication,’ ‘orgies,’ ‘promiscuity.’ While they are referring to the same act, our Christian terminologies are expressions of judgement and condemnation. And when we talk about HIV-AIDS, it is not merely a sickness like cancer, hypertension, or heart disease. Sadly, HIV-AIDS is associated with sin and punishment because it is an illness that is perceived as a threat to the whole of society.
This afternoon, I will share a biblico-theological reflection that will hopefully provide new understandings about, first, sickness and sin, and, second, vulnerability and sexuality.
Sickness and Sin
Mark 1:40-42 reads, “A leper came to him (Jesus) begging him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately, the leprosy left him and he was made clean.”
In the conversation, the leper says, “if you choose…” and Jesus simply responds, “I do choose.” In the preceding verses, a man in Capernaum had an unclean spirit and Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to leave the man. When Jesus went to the house of Simon, he healed many with diseases. And when he heals a paralytic in the next chapter and is confronted by temple scribes, he says to them, Which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven” or “Stand up, take up your mat and walk.” (Mark 2, 9) Jesus always chose to heal and Jesus always chose to forgive. Even when one did not ask for healing and forgiveness.
In the skit/interview this morning, our discussion revolved around sin and sickness. For many of us who call ourselves Christians, we have been told in subtle ways that sickness is a result of sin. And because it is a result of sin, the suffering is necessary and even deserved. Kaya natin maging mapagpatawad kung nagkasakit ng HIV-AIDs ang isang tao dahil sa isang blood transfusion o kaya dental procedure. Pero kung ito ang nag-ugat sa mga bagay tulad ng drug use o kaya ay sex, kaya natin ipagkait ang kapatawaran at kagalingan. But Jesus whom we say we follow, always chose to heal.
While we perceive HIV-AIDS as a result of sin and punishment, we will not be able to participate in the healing and wholeness, liberation and empowerment, of the sick and their families and communities. It is only when we can accept that HIV-AIDS is a sickness of the body that we can begin minister to them bodily, and advocate for their rights to healthcare and other opportunities and every basic human right and be in solidarity with their families and loved ones.
Sexuality and Vulnerability
In the book of Ruth, we encounter three women at the crossroads of their lives: Naomi, the mother-in-law, and Ruth and Orpah, her daughters-in-law. They were all widows, had no property, and needed to decide where they wanted to go. Very little is said about Orpah because she goes back to her own people, the Moabites. And the story revolves around Ruth. The choice of Ruth to remain with Naomi has been interpreted in Christian tradition as a conversion experience. Ruth made the right choice: she chose the ‘right’ God. But for a moment, let us forget that Christian interpretation and look at how the story unfolds: Ruth is a widow, a young widow. If this were to be portrayed in Philippine Cinema, who would you choose to play the role, Marian Rivera, Solenn Heusaff, Lovi Poe (para sa mga kapuso), Angelica Gonzales, Maja Salvador, Cristine Reyes (para sa mga kapamilya). As we go over the story, imagine one of these actresses as Ruth. Of course, she is young and beautiful, poor and a widow. Was her husband killed in war? We do not know for sure but he has been away for a long time and she has been longing for him to come home. They had only been newly married when he, reluctantly, had to join the other men for war. But sadly, she learns that he will never be able to come home to her. She does not know for sure if he had been killed but all the other women have given up on their husbands and so she accepts her deepest fear. She cried for many nights for the man, the only man she has ever known. She will never see his face again, never run her hands over his hair, never feel his strong arms around her, never make love with him ever again. As a widow with no son, she had no right to her husband’s land, she was not just lonely, she was very vulnerable.
One day, she offers to go to the field to gather grain and find favor with “someone” and when Boaz, the owner of the land and a relative of his husband acts kindly towards her, she falls prostrate with her face to the ground in thankfulness and receives his favors. Hindi na bale kung ipinakalat lang ni Boaz muli sa bukid ang mga na-ani na, samantalang puwede naman niyang bigyan ng isang sako ng mga naani na si Ruth nang hindi na sana nagpakahirap sa pagpulot nito. Mahirap na trabaho ang pamumulot ng tira-tira sa isang bukid na napag-anihan na.
And one night, she goes into the room where Boaz sleeps and there uncovers and lays down at Boaz’s “feet.” Before you start imagining Lovi Poe or Angelica Gonzales laying down at the foot of Boaz’s bed, I have to tell you that feet, according to Bible scholars, is a euphemism for the male genitalia or penis. And so sa tutoo lang, ginapang ni Ruth si Boaz. At the end of the narrative, Ruth gives birth to a son, Obed.
There are so many ways to interpret this story. Ruth can be branded as an immoral woman and an opportunist who seduces Boaz to own the land and to find her place in a culture and a community which is not even her own. But we, as a people of faith, have chosen to tell her story as a woman who chooses the true God and a woman who is a part of Jesus’ genealogy. Obed is the father of Jesse. At the end of the story, her bloodline is connected to the bloodline of David. Both interpretations give value to the grand narrative. The big story.
However, for our purposes in understanding human sexuality, I want us to look inside the story of the woman named Ruth. She is a Moabite and very faw away from her home and her family. She has been without a man in her life, having for company mostly Naomi and Orpah. When she meets Boaz and he shows kindness to her, her heart is warmed and in a culture where she is vulnerable and has nothing, she finds hope. As Naomi tells her that Boaz is a relative of the their family and could marry her so that she could have a part in her husband’s inheritance, she begins to think of him as a man. It must have taken days. They must both have tried to find moments to encounter each other again. Boaz must have been regarded with respect by the community and Ruth was a young and beautiful widow. Maybe some of the other men noticed her and commented on how attractive she is, and Boaz is intrigued. But Ruth, in her vulnerability, needed Boaz. She had already seen that he could be kind to those whom everyone else could choose to ignore. And of course, he was a man. She is torn between staying away and seeking him. In her weakness and loneliness, she goes to the only man whom she believed would be kind her. She was like any human being in need of intimacy and love; in need of a moment to feel desired and wanted; in need of another human being who understood what she was going through. The story of Ruth is a sexual drama, but it is not just about sex. It is about our humanity, our sexuality and our vulnerability.
Our statistics show that many of those who have HIV-AIDS got the sickness from heterosexual encounters by OFWs. Like Ruth, many of them experience loneliness and vulnerability; many of them cherish their families and loved ones; and some of them reach the point when the only way to affirm their humanity and hope is to feel another person beside them who understands what they are going through.
We can choose to heal because Jesus always chose to heal. It was not a moral issue for him and it should not be a moral issue for us. But more importantly, we must remember that if those who are not sick reached out to another person in their vulnerability and loneliness, they are even more lonely and vulnerable when they have HIV-AIDs. We must reach out to them.
Lizette G. Tapia-Raquel
Union Theological Seminary