Summary: A message raising the question of where we find the lepers of the 21st century and how we should deal with them in light of Jesus action.
Restoring the Ruined
Introduction: Casey House in Toronto is a modern day leper’s colony. None of the residents who live there has any hope for a cure. None of the residents who live there has any family interested in their plight. None of the residents who live there has any dreams for the future. Few of the residents who live there can think fondly on their past. None of the residents who live their will today will be alive to see the end of March. None of the residents who live there has leprosy. They are modern day lepers; they are people suffering with end-stage AIDS virus.
We came across Casey House last year on our summer mission’s trip. We didn’t go in, we didn’t even stop on the same block, but a few blocks over, we paused to pray for the people who live there. The home is set up as acute hospice care for people suffering with the AIDS virus and all who are admitted are expected to live at the most for six weeks. In many ways, they parallel the Leper communities of Jesus’ day.
Leprosy was a ruinous disease, and in more ways than simply, the physical flesh of the Leper. Among the Jews, it was especially horrific.
I. The Ruin of Leprosy
Leprosy is a disease, which is not prevalent today. Many believe the root cause lies in poor sanitation, in certain third world countries the disease which is now called Hansen’s disease is still found. In scripture, Leprosy described a number of skin ailments; the worst of them would utterly ruin a person physically.
There is no nice way to describe the effects of Leprosy. Runny, dripping sores on the body, dry flaking skin; nubs where once there had been fingers and toes. Skin discolouration, bulbous swelling, and distortion of limbs. One of the main effects of Leprosy was to numb the senses so that a leper might accidentally burn him or herself to the bone or cut their foot without knowledge. Dr. Paul Brand, a Christian doctor who worked among Lepers in the third world, discovered much of what we know today about this debilitating disease.
There is no doubt about the fact that the most visible effect of Leprosy was to steal strength, beauty and health. Leaving the sufferer as a shriveled wraith. There is no known cure for Leprosy.
Similarly AIDS attacks a persons immune system, destroying the T-Cell’s which fight infection the end result in inevitably death, not death from AIDS, but from Pneumonia, Tuberculosis, Chicken-Pox, Influenza or the Common Cold. AIDS sufferers also are thin a wraith like in appearance often, discolorations mark their skin. And there is no cure for AIDS.
The suffering of Leprosy did not come primarily from the disfiguration for most however. Many can suffer with debilitating disease if they have the support of friends and family. Leprosy drove the sufferer from their home, from their town and from their loved ones. The fear of infection was so great that no leper was allowed to enter a building where non-infected people dwelt. Lepers were not permitted to enter the gates of a walled city. Lepers were forced to dwell outside of community, finding companionship only with other Lepers. It was against Jewish law to touch or be touched by a Leper. It was a life of mandated isolation. It was a life of mandated poverty. In the Middle East where food and water are hard to come by it was a life of mandated starvation unless a family member was kind enough to leave food where you could find it. It was the intense suffering of being without family and without friends.
So also, with AIDS, it is a social disease. No matter how much we educate people about the AIDS virus, every one of us will be somewhat on guard when we know we are dealing with someone who has the dreaded disease. For each one of the victims who are dying at Casey house they have been rejected by their families. Not necessarily because of the AIDS virus, but because of the lifestyle choice that has brought AIDS upon them.
It is almost always true that AIDS is a lifestyle related disease. When forced to face the facts I realize that my life may end from cancer, heart disease, stroke or some other accident. In fact, there are many diseases, which may ultimately end my life, but I don’t spend much time worrying about whether AIDS might claim me. I imagine none of us does. So, isn’t this different from Leprosy?
In fact it isn’t. Although scripture doesn’t say anything about the cause of Leprosy, by the times of Jesus the Rabbi’s and teachers of the law had determined that Leprosy was the judgment of God upon immoral people. It was a logical conclusion in a society that lacked medical technology. Why else would a God visit such horrendous suffering upon a person if not for some terrible secret sin? And so, the numbness of disfigurement and the pain of isolation were augmented by the accusation of wrongdoing. Moreover, the Leper was left throughout their lifetime wondering whether it was something they had done.