“Today I will start with a three-part sermon on: Jesus was HIV-positive,” South African Pastor Xola Skosana recently said in a Sunday church service.
The words initially stunned his congregation in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township into silence, and then set tongues wagging in churches across the country.
Some Christians have been outraged, saying he is portraying Jesus as sexually promiscuous.
HIV is mainly transmitted through sex, but can also be spread through needle-sharing, contaminated blood, pregnancy and breastfeeding.
However, as Pastor Skosana told those gathered in the modest Luhlaza High School hall for his weekly services, in many parts of the Bible Jesus put himself in the position of the destitute, the sick and the marginalised.
“Wherever you open the scriptures Jesus puts himself in the shoes of people who experience brokenness. Isaiah 53, for example, clearly paints a picture of Jesus who takes upon himself the infirmities and the brokenness of humanity,” he told the BBC.
He is also quick to emphasise that he is using the metaphor to highlight the danger of the HIV/Aids pandemic, which still carries a stigma in South Africa’s townships.
“Of course, there’s no scientific evidence that Jesus had the HI virus in his bloodstream,” says the pastor, whose non-denominational Hope for Life Ministry is part of a growing charismatic movement in South Africa.
“The best gift we can give to people who are HIV-positive is to help de-stigmatise Aids and create an environment where they know God is not against them, he’s not ashamed of them.”