About a half-century ago, there was a spate of movies in which the heroine spent the whole time dying of a mysterious, but fatal illness. The primary symptom of this disease was swooning at dramatic moments and lounging around on pillows. The sufferer kept her good looks and her valiant attitude to the very end—which was signaled by the sudden onset of blindness. Carol Burnett later spoofed these movies on her television show, giving the disease a much-needed name: the Movie Star Disease.
Clearly, AIDS is not as noble as the Movie Star Disease, but then neither is any other terminal illness. With most terminal illnesses, the victim dies slowly and in much pain, and the final stages are not pretty to look at. No terminal illness I know of allows the victim to swoon theatrically or to lounge around decorously—at least, no terminal illness that any member of my family ever had. But AIDS is much worse to die of than most other terminal diseases, because in the typical case, the victim dies in an institution, abandoned by friends, ignored by relatives, looked down upon by religious groups, with months to contemplate death in total solitude.
Recently, while surfing the web, I came across an essay in a religious website that asked the question,
Is AIDS a noble disease? The author reasoned that AIDS is not a noble disease and that those who are dying of AIDS are not worthy of compassionate treatment as they die. He further concluded that Christians ought not to extend the same compassion to AIDS sufferers as they do to the sufferers of other diseases.
Now on the first point, I agree that AIDS is not a noble disease. In fact, I don’t know of any noble diseases, except perhaps the Movie Star Disease, to which we are all immune, because it only afflicts movie characters. So anyone who says that AIDS is not a noble disease is simply stating the obvious. One might as well start up a website to spread the news that it is darker at night than during the day, that summer is warmer than winter, and that water is wet. If you are enlightened by this information, welcome to our planet.
The author’s second point was that AIDS sufferers are not worthy of compassionate treatment as they die. Well, I don’t know each individual case, and I certainly don’t know how he can make a blanket statement like that, but I wonder if it makes any difference. The reason I say that is because I most emphatically disagree with the third point, that Christians should avoid extending compassion to people who are unworthy. Scripture says that while we were yet sinners, Jesus died for us. Scripture says that we are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God, yet Jesus gave His very life to save us. Jesus gave us the gift of eternal life. He also caused us to be adopted as sons of His Father, and He commissioned us to be the agents of His providence and grace in this world. We did not deserve one bit of His compassionate generosity.
So I ask you, does it matter whether an AIDS sufferer—or anyone else, for that matter—deserves your compassion? Did it matter to Jesus that you did not deserve to be saved?
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
—Luke 6:37-38, NIV
Pay close attention, because this is vitally important. It’s not too late to change things. What you give others will be your reward. If you pass by any lost lamb for whom Jesus died, proud of your religiosity and certain of his unworthiness, are you better than the Pharisee who pridefully passes up a leper in need so as not to become ritually unclean? What sort of treasure are you laying in store for yourself in heaven? What will be given to you in good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over?
At the Last Judgment, how will Jesus know that you had faith? By your fruits He will know you. If you found a tree with apples growing on it, you would know that it was not a pear tree. In the same way, if Jesus finds that you have not obeyed His commandments, He’ll know that you did not truly love Him:
Then he will say to those on his left,Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.
They also will answer,Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?
He will reply,I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.
Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
—Matthew 25:41-46, NIV