Summary: Jesus heals a leper demonstrate the power of His love
This last year when I was in Africa I learned something. There is a conflict that exists between African and Asians. The Asian culture is one of honor and shame. The African culture is one of personal relationships. The conflict that exists between these two groups is a result of misunderstood cultural differences. If say, an African buys something at store from an Asian clerk the clerk will put the change on the counter and slide it over because they view money as being very dirty and they do not want to disrespect someone by putting something that is dirty in their hands. The Africans interpret this as the Asians saying that they are dirty because they wont make physical contact with them. So the act that was intended to show respect becomes an act of disrespect. Physical contact is an important part of our lives and feeling isolated or dirty because people won’t touch you is a painful thing.
One of the ways prisons punish their prisoners for bad behavior is they throw them in solitary confinement and deprive them of human contact. Needing to share in community with others is a part of being human. Look at Luke 5:12. After calling Peter, Andrew, James, and John from their business to be full time disciples Jesus continues traveling from town to town around the Sea of Galilee preaching the Gospel. He comes in contact with a man suffering from a terrible disease and what Jesus does is truly incredible.
Lk 5:12 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy.
Leprosy is a nasty disease what was not uncommon during Jesus day.
Leprosy comes from the word lepo, meaning to peel off like scales, which is not something you want to be doing to your flesh. Leprosy was a painful and debilitating disease that begins with a swelling or eruption on the flesh. The hair on the sore will turn white and the rash starts to spread. Eventually it becomes open sores that cover your entire body. Sometimes it is accompanied by boils. It is so painful you would want to avoid bathing.
Over time leprosy can cause serious nerve damage so if you injured yourself, say you busted your toe on a large rock, you wouldn’t know it. At first that sounds nice because we don’t like pain, but pain is important. Pain is the body’s way of telling us something is wrong. When you break your ankle it hurts to weight on it as reminder that you need to take easy so your ankle can heal. Without those pain sensors you could break bones and never know it. As a result lepers would have appendages and limbs rotting away and falling off.
Leprosy is not a fatal condition. You could survive for twenty years as a leper and that may be the worst part of it. Leprosy wasn’t just painful, this disease would ruin your life. It carried with it a strong social stigma. Many people at this time believed that leprosy was how God cursed wicked people. So at the time they needed compassion the most what they got was judgment and condemnation.
Lepers were quarantined from the rest of society out of fear that their disease would spread to others, which to be fair was very possible. Any contact with a leper from physical touch to them sneezing on you could spread their disease. So when someone has leprosy you don’t want to be near them, even if you are family. Can you imagine having the misfortune of catching a painful disease but because it was this particular disease you would have to deal with it alone? No family, no friends, no contact with anyone. Leprosy is a disease of isolation that damages every part of a person, not just their body.
If you can imagine how someone with Aids might be treated by a group of people who didn’t understand their condition that might give a little idea of how a leper was treated. They were banished from normal society. They could not have meals with people, travel down city streets, go shopping, or engage in any way with other people. Lepers could not work, they had to beg for a living. They had to keep their beds low to the ground so that a strong wind would not carry their disease, they could not even go to the temple to worship God. Can you imagine you come home one day to see your spouse or your child has this red rash and you realize that they are going to be taken away from you and you will never get to see or hold them again.
Lepers are living dead. Leviticus instructs lepers to wear ragged clothing, leave their hair unkempt, and with the sores and decay of their flesh lepers would look a bit like zombies. They cannot have contact with anyone, they just beg for what they need and wait to die. They had to live alone, lepers were always alone. They cannot even take comfort in a leper colony with others who suffer with them, they had to be alone.