I met a woman with leprosy. I was about 12 years old. My dad had been invited to preach at a very poor church that night, and so there we sat on wooden benches on a dirt floor in what was basically a shack with a tin roof. After the meeting was over, the national pastor announced that the church ladies had prepared rice pudding for us. I did not make a move to go get some because I am not a fan of rice pudding, so I just stood there waiting for my dad to finish his conversation and take us home. As I waited, a woman, holding a plastic cup of rice pudding approached me and held it out to me. Immediately, I notice her face. It was shocking. I was afraid. Where her nose should have been was just a gaping hole, barely covered by a small bandage strip. I could see inside her face. I took the cup and muttered a “thank you” before I walked out of the building and stood behind our car. I did not eat the rice. I felt sick.
As an adult, remembering my response to her grieves my heart. I failed. I saw only her face. I did not have God’s love in my heart, or that could have overcome my fear of her disease, and I could have felt compassion and not repulsion.
Leprosy has always been a disease that drives people away. In Leviticus I read that lepers were to remain outside the camp of God’s people. They could not come in. They were to tear their clothing, let their hair hang down loose and call out “Unclean!” as anyone approached them on the road. They wandered around, never at rest. Even their clothing and houses were considered to be defiled and were often burned. Leprosy as a disease in the physical realm is a graphic picture of sin in the spiritual realm. Because sin separates us from what is holy. It takes our peace. It takes our rest. It isolates us. It distorts and destroys what God has made beautiful. It makes us numb to our own destruction. Like leprosy, sin often leaves us blind and unaware of the way we are being hurt. And like the clothing and houses in Leviticus, our sin does not only affect us. It affects everyone and everything in our lives.
In Leviticus, there was no cure for leprosy. They could not come into the camp. They were doomed to wander in the wilderness, forever a living portrait of the ravages of sin. It looked like there was truly no hope for them. Except for the priest. You see, lepers could not go in to the camp and stand before him because of their disease. But he could go out to them. And he did. The priest would leave the camp of the holy and go out to the leper. The priest could examine him and see if he had been healed of leprosy. The priest could pronounce him clean. The priest could bring him into the camp and no one could question that, because only the priest himself was the judge of whether this leper had been cured, not the people.
This is our story. That is our Priest. We were lost. We were ravaged by our sin and cut off from everything that is holy and good. We defiled everything we touched. We were numb to our own destruction. We could not get to the Priest. We could not be made clean. So He came to us. “But God demonstrates His own love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
He did not shrink back in horror at our condition. His love is not like that. He came for us. Outside the camp. In our wilderness. In our depravity. He saw what we looked like, what was missing, what was wounded, and He touched us. And we believed that His touch could heal us, and it did. He pronounced us clean. And friend, if He says we are clean…we are clean, because the priest is the only one who gets a say on that. And He brought us home…home to His presence, home to His people.
And now He has made us priests too. Like Him. So that we can also go outside the camp and find the leper, and the broken. He fills our hearts with His love so that now we can see past the face and past the disease to the heart that His longs for. And we can call them to come and be healed. We can call them home.