We just heard a passage from the Book of Leviticus, and it is a book that we rarely hear read from in churches today. The passage we heard talked about how people who had leprosy or other skin diseases in Old Testament times were to be treated. Today, treatment methods are much different.
Only the Old Testament priests could pronounce that a leper was cured. To be ill with leprosy (or any of the skin diseases that were referred to by the Hebrew term) was no more a sign of personal sin that to be ill with cancer today, but because the disease could spread, various means were used to quarantine the infected person in hopes of preventing an epidemic. The infected person was isolated for as long as two weeks to allow the symptoms time to improve.
Sin that goes unchecked among a people may similarly become an epidemic. The aim of God’s Laws about cleanliness was to protect the people from disease, but more importantly, to teach them by vivid lessons how God wanted purity, holiness, and cleanliness among His people. Failure to obey these laws was considered sin. While following God’s laws did provide good hygienic results, they also separated the pure and clean from the impure and unclean. The Israelites were to be distinct from the pagan nations surrounding them. Similarly, we as Christians are to be distinct from the people around us. That does not mean that we are to ignore them. Rather, we are to love them as Christ would and share the Good News with them.
Some of us ask ourselves if the book of Leviticus applies today. The answer is “Yes.” Leprosy and other skin diseases are symbols of the sinful nature of human beings. They show the sinfulness of sin and the effect of sin in action. For example, many health conditions today such as lung cancer and sexually transmitted diseases are the result of sinful activities such as smoking or unsafe sex. The leper who had to walk down the street and cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” reminded the Israelites that they were moral lepers who needed supernatural cleansing.
The victims of these diseases were not treated humanely. The Hebrews dreaded living outside the Israelites camp, because they lived and breathed for the community of God’s people, unlike many modern Western individuals. To be outside the camp was to be removed from the worship of God, because the tabernacle was in the midst of the camp. To be outside the camp was to be cut off from one’s people and from God’s covenant. Similarly, people today who do not know God or who do not go to church without a good reason are removed from other Christians and God’s love.
Only when we begin to feel the dehumanization of anyone who lives outside of the love of God and His children can we appreciate the compassion and love Jesus had when He healed the leper in Mark 1:40-45, Matthew 8:2-4 and Luke 5:12-14. The lesson we can learn from this passage is that we should use every human means available for physical and spiritual healing as well as God’s direct intervention.
As long as we excuse our sins and think that we are basically good people, we are not fit to receive God’s grace. When we realize that we are helpless and undone, without one hope or one redeeming trait, God’s grace can have its blessed way with us. We must fall on our knees at Jesus’ feet. We must confess that we are full of need and sin. Only then are we near to Christ and fit to be richly blessed. Then, in the words of a famous radio pastor, the Lord can make us a blessing-a blessing that can be shared with the world.