I had a thought today while driving in the car. I thought about Jesus touching a leper. It's recorded in Matthew 8. The man in this story might have actually had Hansen's Disease, a bacterial infection that ravages skin and nerve tissue, or some other form of dermatitis. In any event, Jewish law forbade anyone with an "infectious skin disease" to live with healthy people. Check out Leviticus 13 for a very thorough overview on Biblical dermatology. God's law is always meant to protect spiritually, emotionally and physically. He is our Protector, our Gate and Good Shepherd, so it was for the benefit of many that He mandated those few with infectious diseases be sent "outside the camp." This kept diseases like Hansen's Disease from becoming epidemics. There was even provision in the law for how to determine if and when the disease was getting better, and how to reinstate someone who had been previously cast out when their skin infection cleared up. God is very detail-oriented, and I like that about Him.
But even knowing that God created regulations for skin infections to protect His people, it's still a little sad to read Leviticus 13:45, "The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, and cover the lower part of his face and cry out, 'Unclean! Unclean!' As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp." On the one hand, this demonstrates how God knows everything and we humans are slow on the uptake. Leprosy (Hansens) is spread through the respiratory system, which means that the whole "I'm coming! Get out of the way" warning would have gotten people clear of their breath, and the covering of the mouth thing would have perhaps caught some of the moisture from their breath- no doubt keeping thousands of lives safe. But your heart sort of breaks for the person who had to go around in the leper costume, always announcing how "unclean" they are.
What's really amazing is that if you treated people like this in American society today, you would shock everyone. First of all, affirmative action has taught us not to discriminate- ever. Don't get me wrong, I am all for affirmative action. Or, at least, the idea behind it. I understand that it is abused in some cases, like all other good ideas. But how much more God-like can you be than to say, "We no longer count you inferior because of your gender or ethnicity or socio-economic status." Isn't that exactly what Paul was getting at when he said in Galatians 3:28, "There is no Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This is the good stuff in the Bible but it's really misunderstood a lot. So people look to the government or elsewhere to find "social justice" when really it's the God-followers who ought to be leading the campaign. Anyway, affirmative action, anti-discrimination, those things the Western church dropped the ball on got picked up by the government along the way and now we Americans are shocked when people are treated differently. So someone going around saying "unclean! unclean!" would be appalling to us!
I think that as believers it's imperative to understand who God is in that situation. First, He is the Protector of many, thus the reason for the law in the first place. But it doesn't stop there- He is the bender of His own rule. Or actually, a better way to say that is that He is the completer of His own rules. Jesus is the completion of the law, Matthew says. So when He touched that unclean man and healed him, it wasn't that He was contradicting what His Father had spoken into the legal system hundreds of years before, it's just that He was writing the final draft. This is the fabulous stuff in the Bible- and it's worth thinking about, talking about, and acting on. God told the lepers to go outside the camp. True. But God reached out and touched them and healed them. Amen! "But God..." a small phrase that carries the weight of eternity. People sinned and brought judgment on themselves, but God sent Jesus to be punished for that sin. People were unable to keep all the rules of the law, but God provided a new covenant, written in the blood of His own Precious Son. I was trapped in rebellion and sin, but God pursued me with love and set me free. Things are the way they are and that is oftentimes bad, but God makes all things new.
Lepers were not allowed to be touched, but Jesus touched them. And that's incredible. But this is what's really got me thinking. We're okay with Hansen's disease these days. We know it's caused by a bacterial infection, and that people don't really have any control over whether or not they contract it. But that's not what the Jewish people thought. And they weren't the only ones. For millenia, people have assumed that lepers were sinful, awful people and the disease was a consequence or manifestation of their sin. Only in the past few decades has it been understood that Hansen's is not a sexually transmitted disease. See, I think it's easy for us to look upon the sick and weak who are "victims" of circumstance, drought, war, famine, etc. and want to touch their lives. We all want to make an impact. It's popular. Yesterday World Vision had an all day thing going on the Christian radio station to raise money to support West Africa. The response was huge! This is great, and I'm not trying to belittle the work of World Vision in any way. Certainly they are acting out the Great Commission and I fully support that work. However, I am struck that people with diseases on other Continents are so much easier to take care of than the disease that pervades our own lives and/or the lives of those closest to us- sin. It's easy to call an 800 number and pledge to feed the hungry, sponsor the orphan, provide treatment for the infant infected with HIV. There's nothing wrong with that. We should do that. But that's easy. That costs hardly anything. A phone call? Thirty dollars? That's not really asking much. And a lot of people in America want to reach over to another Continent. But what about reaching over to your spouse? Or your sister or your bother? What about your son or daughter? What about that person at work who really annoys you? What about the people that hate you and make sure that you know it? What about those "sick" people? And what about you? Who's going to reach out when it becomes uncomfortable, painful, even shameful to touch that person who hurts you, frightens you, or might cost you your reputation?
That's what I was left thinking about in the car today. Because I'll send money. I'll sponsor and give. But when Jesus asks me, no commands me- to touch the one that I consider unclean, what am I going to do? We've been conditioned by our churches and non-profits to see the needy as acceptable. We need to help them. Besides, that's what makes us better than everyone else, doesn't it? Otherwise, we'd be just like all those other selfish worldly people, wouldn't we? So we respond to that need. But when the need is close, when it costs us personally, our reaction is much, much different. Humility is expensive. It costs time and money and it means letting other people see you for who you really are. Shoot, it means seeing yourself for who you really are- the way that the Holy One sees us. And that stuff is dirty. It's messy. It takes time to work that out. And we don't want to deal with that. We want to sweep it under a rug, or focus on other people's problems or the government and what a bad job it's doing or the people with cancer or AIDS or whatever. But that's a poor man's version of Christianity. You want treasure in heaven? You want to know the elaborate riches awaiting you in Christ Jesus? You have to touch the person you do not in any way shape or form want to touch. That's what Jesus was doing. NO ONE wanted to touch a leper. It was FORBIDDEN. It simply was. not. done. But He did it. And that's the reason that I'm writing this. Because until the day I die, I will be amazed that that is who HE IS. And humbled because it costs me everything to be like Him, and I kick and moan and whine all the way to the cross.
You and I are infected. We are diseased. Our families are diseased. Our parents. Our children. Our friends at church. We were born that way, we will die that way. Paul said that we will struggle with the desire of our flesh until the end. But He touches us. And His touch heals us! "In that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." No one has made it to holiness. Not a single one ever will. No one is righteous, we're just blood-covered- and that makes us righteous in Father's sight. And while that blood covers us, we are slaves to the righteousness it produces which means one thing- you must touch the leper in your life. I have to touch the leper in mine. Don't fool yourself and think that you're going to want to. Even Jesus was honest enough to admit that He DID NOT want to go to the cross. But He went to obey. And that's where I'm at, folks. Obey. Go where He went. Die like He died. Because He touches lepers. I don't want to. You won't want to either, but God- He wants us to. So let's do it. Let's touch the untouchable. Love the unlovable. Teach the unteachable. If you and I do- then maybe, just maybe- someone may be healed.
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man...Immediately he was cured. Matthew 8:3