“Any person with a serious skin disease must wear torn clothes, leave his hair loose and unbrushed, cover his upper lip, and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as anyone has the sores, that one continues to be ritually unclean. That person must live alone; he or she must live outside the camp.” Leviticus 13:45-46 (MSG)
The reason for all of the designations of sores, rashes, boils and fungus in today’s chapter is pretty clear. The people of Israel, millions of them, were wandering through the desert, pitching their tents as they went. They had no formal system of government or organization. Anyone who has watched the aftermath of disasters on television knows that large groups of people in precarious situations are in need of provision and health considerations. By setting out some basic health regulations around infectious disease, the law of Leviticus was protecting the people from getting killed off in a preventable epidemic.
But, consider the poor individuals with an infection. No penicillin. No anti-biotics. They were cast from the society to live on their own. Not only scarred by their physical ailments, they now had the scarring of their souls which came from being cursed and separated from family and friends. No more warm embraces from loved ones. No more intimacy with a spouse. Wherever they went they had to scream “UNCLEAN!” Imagine the psychological effect of having to scream that word all day, declaring to the world your own curse and shame.
I can’t read Leviticus 13 without thinking about the time a man with leprosy came to Jesus. Imagine the outcast described in today’s chapter: torn clothes, face covered, body covered with the ugly white scars of leprosy. Imagine the man who has cried “unlean” for years and watched people, including his own loved ones, flee from him in horror. Imagine the man who can’t remember feeling the touch of another human being.
A leper came to [Jesus], begging on his knees, “If you want to, you can cleanse me.”
Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there the leprosy was gone, his skin smooth and healthy.
And that’s the whole of God’s message in a nutshell. We are all unclean, separated from God and made outcast by this infectious spiritual condition of sin. But Jesus comes to us, and we fall on our knees before him uttering “If you want to, you can make me clean.”
And he touches us. In that touch is healing. In that touch is life.
“I want to,” he says. “Be clean.”Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and archeon