Diseases such as leprosy are definitely something to be concerned about, even today. A Similar disease, Ebola, has been in the news frequently over the past months. The similarity between these two diseases is the amount of fear they can create within a population. Both are contagious, spread rapidly, and are life changing and life threatening. If they can spread fear in the twenty first century, imagine the fear they spread in the first. Of course today nobody would look at either of these diseases as Gods punishment for a person’s sins, but that is how they were looked at in the first century. The reason that Leviticus Lv 13:1-2, 44-46 gives reason for the laws regarding leprosy have more to do with the notion of sin than they have to do with public health laws. Many people today though, when they read Jesus helping of the leper, think of it as an advancement in the treatment of disease. Mk 1:40-45 They view the moral of the story as disease being considered separate from morality. They see these passages as an advancement of science by viewing illness with the rational eye of the scientist rather than through the eyes of the theologian.
Others though might take a different approach to these readings. Aside from the topic of disease, they can be viewed from the framework of exclusivity versus inclusiveness. Their approach might be to emphasis the Old Testament as being a culture that excluded many from God, and the New Testament as being more inclusive. Their justification is that science points towards the origins of disease, and that this view also is one that led to many of the advancements of healthcare. It is the philosophy that led to modern hospitals founded by religious orders through the years. Compassionate care of the sick is one lesson taken from these scriptures. To them it is not the scientific achievement that matters, but the social achievement. One can argue that both arguments, the intellectual and social, are enough to rest comfortably in the understanding of these two scriptures.
The problem though is these scriptures have little to do with either intellectual, or scientific, or social advancement. They have to do with sin and a person’s relationship with God. The cure of the leper then can have as much to do with the forgiveness of sins as it does with the healing of skin lesions. It can have as much to do with how one approaches sin, as it does with approaching a person with illness. To the first century person then, a contagious disease is identical to a contagious sin; and it does not matter much if one knows the origins of either the disease or the sin. Those people then who had leprosy, were not disfigured due to disease but to sin. Sin is what separated them, and they were not simply unclean as they proclaimed, but most certainly cursed by God. They were cursed and despised by God. They were cast from the covenant and cast into an eternity of Hell. Their cries, “unclean, unclean!” were not their only cries. They cried also “God, in your kindness forgive me”, “God, make me clean”, “God, ease my suffering.” With these cries then what becomes important, their disease of science or sociology? Which did Jesus Christ care about, and what did Jesus Christ observe. I would think he observed their cries, their pleas, and their prayers. He listened to the sincerity of their prayers, versus the ritual prayers of the Temple Priests.
How could Christ ignore those pleas from people isolated from God simply because of a physical ailment? How could Christ ignore people that were not accepted by God because of their inability to keep up with the religious demands of the time? How could Christ justify people being separated from God due to their livelihood? To Christ all could journey towards God if they put their faith in God and were obedient to Gods commands. To Him the past was not a reason for separation, to Him there was forgiveness of sin. That is why when the leper said “if you wish, you can make me clean,” Jesus replied “I do will it. Be made clean.” Jesus heard the sincerity of the cries of all who screamed “unclean”, He heard the cries of the poor and the outcast. It was through the sincerity of those cries that He wished they be made clean. The cries of those alienated people were really not much different from the cries of the Israelites throughout the centuries as they stumbled in their faithfulness to God. Throughout their history, the Pharisees ancestors, there was suffering much like the suffering of the leper. There also was forgiveness and that opportunity to reunite with their God if they truly wished it. Sin and forgiveness is the story of the Old Testament. As Jesus healed the leper, He healed all who were unjustly separated from God. They were those blinded by the power of others, crippled with burdens of society, and those that simply died in their faith. Jesus healed those who wished to be healed, He reunited those wounded and disfigured people wit their God. His was much more than simply restoring a persons appearance, it was restoring their relationship with God.