In the Old Testament, Leviticus 13, we read how the Israelites, along with all other ancient groups, struggled with the terrifying disease of leprosy. They of course had no cure for the disease and were well aware of how contagious it could be. Consequently the only action their community could take was to demand that the poor sufferer leave the community and go away, far enough away to be no further threat to the group. And the passage ends with the awful words: “they must live outside the camp.” And that was a life and death sentence of poor food, shelter and safety, and gnawing loneliness to go along with the dreadful progression of their disease. There was no alternative.
In the gospels of the New Testament, as long as Jesus walked among men he could miraculously cure lepers, and thereby readmit them to the camp. That brief time was truly amazing and life affirming for the unfortunate sufferers. But Jesus left this world and leprosy continued to plague the lives of ancient peoples.
What have these Bible readings got to say to us today? And indeed, thanks to medical science, we can now cure leprosy or at the very least halt the progression of it.
The scriptures readings do, and always do, have a profound meaning for us today in our real world of technology, busyness and strife. The key to this is realising that leprosy is a metaphor for us – a metaphor for our personal leprosy, which we can call ‘sin’.
Nowadays, people are still ostracised, and forced to “live outside the camp” if they fall foul of society’s accepted mores. The person of ill repute or the person who has publicly brought shame on themselves, will swiftly be abjured and in a number of subtle ways, be isolated. This could be by being sacked by an organisation or government, banned from social media, or even put in prison, and – in some countries – put to death.
The good news of Jesus still holds true. The key message of the scriptures concerning leprosy is that – for God – no one is doomed to being “outside the camp.” In fact, it is often the ‘public sinner’, the one who has fallen or failed, the ‘lost sheep’, the ‘repentant sinner’, who is all the more welcomed into the camp of God, both in terms of eternal life in heaven and inspired human acceptance in this life.
Ring it from the housetops! The God we believe in is all merciful, and delights in readmitting the fallen, back into the company of fellow sinners, and back in His company for all time to come. Alleluia!