The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “If someone has on his skin a scab or pustule or blotch which appears to be the sore of leprosy, he shall be brought to Aaron, the priest, or to one of the priests among his descendants. If the man is leprous and unclean, the priest shall declare him unclean by reason of the sore on his head. The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”
We don’t often hear of quarantines anymore. Quarantines are used to separate and restrict the movement of people; it is enforced isolation. Quarantines were used quite a bit in the past in connection to disease and illness, especially communicable disease. Quarantines were used during the plague, to prevent the spread of leprosy, yellow fever, cholera, diphtheria, infectious tuberculosis, and smallpox. More recently for Ebola and influenza.
The text we read from Leviticus serves two purposes.
The Law was meant to protect the people of Israel against the disease of leprosy at its most practical level. People who were sick had specific rules to follow so others wouldn’t get sick.
The text symbolically points out that the things that are unclean and sinful, including sinful people, should be kept apart from God’s people. God’s people were set apart as pure and holy and as such needed to avoid the infection of sin.
This symbolic meaning is quite depressing, not because its fun to hang out with those who would lead us down the wrong road, but because they were left alone. They could sit there and pick at their scabs-sins, sin again, contemplate their sin, but never get clean. They would dwell apart forever – apart from the community, apart from God. Their fate was painful and hopeless. With that sort of hopelessness there was not reason to repent, to turn away from sin, and no possibility of being welcomed back.
This is our hope, the abundance that we have been given. A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.”
Jesus came to call us to repentance. He tells us to stop picking at our scabs in isolation, quarantined away, and reaches out to heal us. He makes us clean and new. As we enter the season of Pre-Lent we are given the opportunity to reflect on the scabs we have been picking, and to begin the walk back to Jesus who will heal and free us.