Summary: Message about Jesus’ healing of the leper and what we can learn and apply from it.
Reflecting Jesus to the Outcast
September 11, 2005
As we begin our time in the Word of God today, I’d like us to think about someone we used to know that we’d avoid at any cost.
Maybe it was back in high school or college. Maybe you don’t have to go back that far. It could be that there is someone you can think of that you’re avoiding nowadays rather than just in the past.
But the thought of being seen around that person gave you the chills, because they were someone everyone else avoided.
In Bible times, people with leprosy were that type of person, only much worse. Leprosy was a death sentence in many cases, especially in Bible times.
Treatment was thousands of years away, and resulted in disfigurement and usually death.
It’s an infectious disease, spread by contact with droplets from the mouth or nose of someone who is infected. Just touching a person with leprosy can bring you into contact with these fluids and spread the disease.
It attacks the skin and peripheral nerves. It can cause the loss of limb, usually through injury to the limb that goes unnoticed due to the deadening of the nerves there. People could cut themselves or break a bone and not even know it until later.
Can you imagine a group of people who would view pain as a good thing? Most of us spend our lives trying to avoid pain, but these people would welcome the ability to feel pain!
But as bad as the physical effects of leprosy are the social effects were as bad or worse in Bible times.
When a person came down with leprosy, he was banished from the city, made to live outside the city gates with the rest of the lepers. If they came into the city, they were forced to cover themselves from head to foot, and cry out, "Unclean!" so people could avoid contact with them.
They were quarantined from the rest of the population. They were stigmatized and outcast. Families were torn apart, and lives broken with despair.
They were ceremoniously unclean, and not allowed to worship in the temple, synagogue, or church during the spread of the gospel around the world. Leprosy was viewed as being representative of sin, and so if you were a leper then it was assumed that you were in sin.
Being a leper was a horrible thing. I’m sure it caused many, if not most people to wonder if God had abandoned them by allowing it or cursed them by causing it.
Chuch Swindoll tells the story of his time in the Marines in 1958. He was serving with the Marine Corps band in Okinawa when their tour took them to a leper colony on the island. Swindoll said he was totally unprepared for what he encountered at the leper colony. He saw stumps instead of hands, clumps instead of fingers. He saw half faces, and he saw one ear instead of two. So heinous were those who lived on the colony that they were unable to applaud the band’s performances. He said he could literally see the anguished cries of the men, women and teenagers who made that place their home. He said, "We could play music for them, but we could not cleanse them of their disease." (SermonCentral.com - Contributed by Lynn Malone)
In Scripture the leper is symbolic of the ultimate outcast: infected by a condition he did not seek, rejected by those he know, avoided by people he did not know, condemned to a future he could not bear.
The divorced know this feeling. So do the children of alcoholics. We keep our distance from the depressed and avoid the terminally ill.
And often these people decide that rather than seek help, they’ll retreat from contact with other people. The risk of being hurt is too great.
Maybe it’s the homeless person who, because of the economic situation has been laid off and isn’t able to find work in spite of his best efforts. I’m not talking about the lazy person who’s not willing. I think you know how I feel about that. I’m talking about the person who is unable to work for some reason or another, and now has to survive on the streets, and maybe has had to leave family behind while looking for a way to support them.
Or maybe it’s the guy or girl in school who is not as pretty or handsome as the rest, or maybe has a physical condition that draws attention to them. Or maybe it’s the "geek" or "nerd" or whatever, and everyone avoids them.
Maybe it’s someone of another nationality or skin color.
The point is that there are plenty of people around that we would rather avoid being around, for one reason or another, and many times it’s something beyond their control, like leprosy.