Friday, May 14, 2004

Leprosy

1. In Leviticus, leprosy is the most serious of all forms of uncleanness. Some forms of uncleanness -- such as that which comes from touching an unclean animal or insect -- were cleansed simply by waiting until evening (the beginning of a new day according to Israelite custom) and washing.

2. Other forms of uncleanness, such as that which results from childbirth, required a longer waiting period and the offering of a sacrifice.

3. But leprosy is much different. All other forms of uncleanness require that the person stay away from the temple, but leprosy causes the person to live outside the camp, to be cut off from the congregation of Israel. Lepers had to wear signs of mourning; they could approach no one, touch no one. Whenever anyone began to walk near them, they were to call out, "Unclean! Unclean!" to warn them to stay away.

4. Interestingly, such regulations about leprosy are not specific to the Israelites. In many cultures, there are similar exclusionary rules. For leprosy is a repulsive disease.

5. We don't know exactly what diagnosis a modern physician would give to the disease of this leper in Mark 1, but let's assume he had modern leprosy, Hanson's disease. This is a disease of the nervous system which causes its victim to lose all sense of touch and pain, initially in the fingers and toes, then spreading up the arms and legs. Without a sense of touch, the ill person eventually damages his toes, fingers, and feet. He will knock them, cut them, get infections -- and not notice.

6. As the leprosy spreads, many lepers go blind -- not because of the disease itself, but because, without feeling in their eyes, they forget to blink.

7. So as leprosy advances, the leper hardly looks human. No fingers. No toes. Face disappearing. Isolated from others. No one wants to draw near, no one wants to touch. And in a sense, they can't touch, for they cannot feel another person.

Dr Brand writes this:
The loneliest people of all are the ones for whom leprosy has also destroyed their sight. Like many others in the world, they are blind, but unlike most of the blind they can't use their hands to bring them the sensations that their eyes are denied because they can't feel either. They are really alone

8. So leprosy is a symbol not of the need for preparation prior to entering God's presence, but a symbol of lostness. Leprosy is a picture of sin eating away, going deep into your being, gradually destroying who you are, making you less and less human, destroying all your relationships, in the end leaving you alone, despised, rejected, hopeless.

Excerpt from one of my sermons on Psalm 51, Wash me thouroughly and cleanse me....

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