It’s not really how people treat me; it’s how I feel.
I have monkeypox. I have sores covering large areas of my body. I’ve been isolating from everyone for two weeks. It’s painful, it’s unrelenting, and it’s contagious.
So I eat dinner with the family in a chair set six feet away from the others.
So I call out instructions from my chair in the corner as Steve bakes our son’s birthday cake.
So I lay in my bed and try to eavesdrop on the family conversations happening in the other parts of the house.
You know who this reminds me of? The leper from Matthew 8. I feel an odd kinship with that man with leprosy.
“When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy[a] came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’
“Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, ‘See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.'”
“Leprosy” was a term used in Scripture to indicate any skin disease. You know what that means? Maybe the leper had monkeypox!
I don’t know if that’s true. I doubt it is. But this is what we do know about him:
- The only name given for this man is “a man with leprosy,” or “a leper.” His illness defined him. His infection was all people saw.
- He was isolated.
(Leviticus 13:46 says “As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.”)
- He was shamed.
(Leviticus 13:45 “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’”)
- He was separated from God
The Bible tools website Bible.org explains uncleanness this way: “The practical outworking of being declared unclean means that we have to stay back. For example, a priest in Leviticus 22 cannot go about his priestly duties in a state of uncleanness. He must wait until he is ceremonially clean. So one may not approach God in his normal worship in an unclean state. It restricts one’s fellowship with God, and it restricts one’s fellowship with men.”1
In orther words, the leper lived in shame, isolated from friends and famly, despairing of any fellowship with God, and bearing the gruesome marks of his humiliation on his face, his hands, his body for everyone to see and condemn.
Jesus was his only hope.
“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
God’s Mercy in The Misery
As I’ve lain in bed, legs propped up to promote healing, polka dotted bandaids feebly covering my angry infected sores, I’ve begun to understand one thing: This is what my sin would look like if I had to wear it on the outside of my body.
It’s foul. Offensive.Toxic. Shameful.
When the leper woke up that day he had one last hope.
He couldn’t live in shame any longer. He couldn’t be isolated any longer. There was only one more chance to be healed. He took his disease to Jesus.
How often do we walk around festering in our sin, making the wrong choices for the wrong reason, putting our own desires above everyone else but remain unaware of the toxicity of our sin and our only hope of cleansing?
The leper’s need of a Healer was written all over his body. But in the Bible we see others who just as desperately needed cleansing, but hid behind self-righteousness and fake goodness.
(Jesus speaking) “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Unlike the Pharisees, the leper couldn’t hide his need for a Savior. He couldn’t fake his way through the day.
God gave the leper the gift of leprosy so he would seek out the Healer. God called him out of an ordinary life of self-reliance and brought him to a needy and desperate place where he would find inside-the-cup life change!
It was a display of God’s great mercy that it pleased him to stop that man in his tracks and put him on a path to find Jesus.
God’s Mercy in His Law
Leviticus chapters 13 and 14 outline God’s command to the people of Israel regarding how to handle skin diseases, requiring the sufferer stand in judgement before a priest, to be declared “unclean,” and to be isolated for weeks at a time until he recovers. It even goes on to explain how linens should be washed and beards should be shaved (Lev. 14:9).
At first glace, these rules and regulations appear harsh and nitpicky. But today I see it differently. Here on my monkeypox sickbed I’ve spent hours researching prevention and treatment, and the instructions I’ve found on the CDC website match perfectly with the instructions given by God to his people. Isolate. Wash. Disinfect.
Even God’s laws – his nitpicky rules and regulations – display his merciful protection of his people. He put those laws in place to protect his people even before they understood about germs or sterilization.
Even God’s laws display his love.
Not Condemnation, But Compassion
Some self-righteous followers of God’s law (those “whitewashed tombs”) took the words from Leviticus, drained them of their loving intent, and misapplied them to heap judgement on the leper and others like him.
So, isolated from family and friends, condemned by the religious leaders, the leper was led by God in his miserable state to the very feet of Jesus.
And Jesus touched him.
This man hadn’t been touched in a long time, and Jesus touched him.
I haven’t been touched in 16 days. I find myself unconsciously touching my own skin – rubbing my arms, my neck. Our bodies were made to be touched, caressed, held by our loved ones, and to touch, caress and hold them in return.
If this man’s disease was chronic and long-term, and his desperate plea for healing from the new, controversial rabbi in town shows us that it likely was, he may have not been touched in years. And then Jesus touched him.
Jesus felt compassion, not disgust. Jesus didn’t recoil, he reached out! Jesus healed him.
He healed the outside of his body to show him that he could heal his soul as well.
That’s our Healer God!
He heals the dirty, unclean, untouchable, infected bodies and souls of all who are desperate enough to ask.
Will you let him heal you?
Dear Heavenly Father,
I need your healing today. My body is sick and gross and I’m sick of it. Please heal my infection.
But thank you, Lord, for this external infection, because it shows me the ugliness of my hidden, internal sins. I don’t want my sin to be toxic and infectious for others. Please cleanse me.
Thank you that by the blood you shed on the cross I can be made clean, white as snow.
Thank you for your mercy.
Please be with any others today who are struggling and fighting against an infected soul. I pray that they’ll turn to you, feel your touch, and be healed.
I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen