Sunday, February 08, 2009

Lepers, Shades and Pariahs

Today at church, we looked at the topic of leprosy.

Biblical leprosy is pretty vague, because the term leprosy could apply to any number of skin conditions that made a person unclean. I would imagine that even eczema would come under the umbrella of leprosy back in the ancient world.

Essentially if you woke up one morning with a skin condition, you had it looked at... and if it was proclaimed leprous, you were carted off to a remote place, tucked conveniently away from the guilty eyes of a society that feared you, where you could not spread your uncleanness. The image that says most prevalent in my mind, is the leper colony in Ben Hur - a vast, labyrinthine desolate quarry where people wander aimlessly, devoid of hope... like wraiths... shades of Hades.

Imagine the life you were being condemned to lead...if you had a non-contagious skin-disease, and you were lumped in with people who have a contagious one.

With the advent of modern medical understanding and treatment, I wonder how easily do we look down with disdain on our forefathers for excluding their stricken brethren?

Do we have an excuse? Do we have a right? Or is there an inconvenient log of wood lodged firmly and hypocritically in our eye?

We are all familiar what the connotations of the disease were because the meaning of the word has diversified to include people who find themselves on the society for a whole multitude of different reasons... not just medical.

As we were reminded in church today... we all have our lepers.

There are people around us in society we find it all too easy to turn a blind eye towards, because we foolishly allow ourselves to fall unconsciously into the deluded notion that the world revolves around our sphere of influence.

Preaching this morning, Julian Davy highlighted the plight of the elderly... how just saying hello in the street more often, might make their day. It brought to my mind the recent news that statistically, dementia is on the increase. Although most forms of dementia probably have a genetic trigger; the more isolated and less occupied a person becomes, the swifter the curtain draws in on them... and the shades come to claim them. As society becomes more and more insular... as we take less interest (and when I say interest I mean that of a compassionate nature, not nosey or meddling), the people on the outside become more distant and are in more danger of being lost. It doesn't matter what they are being lost to... what does matter, is that they are needlessly being left on the event horizon of a calamitous emotional black hole - at the heart of which sits the unquenchable singularity of loneliness and despair.

We can ill afford to abandon anyone to such a merciless foe... lest one day through mishap or neglect, we too find ourselves on the other side of the coin... drifting ever closer to the point of no return.

Personally my own thoughts took me much further than the sermon went today. Just before setting off for this morning's service, one of my bugbears reared it's ugly head in the news... and I was reminded that lepers aren't just people who are less fortunate, or ignored... they are sometimes people who are very much in our face - those we consider our adversaries.

We need to learn to separate our rejection of certain ideas and acts, from those that hold them. Love the sinner, hate the sin. What the sin is I won't preach on... that's down to whatever God convicts in your heart.

The remarkable thing about Christ, is that he didn't just acknowledge lepers... he engaged with them. The scripture tells us he was moved with genuine compassion. He did not fear their contagion and he did not despise their uncleanness. He walked right up to them and pulled them out of their personal Hell.

He didn't just do this with the physically sick. He did this with all societies outcasts - the foreigner, the prostitutes, the lunatics, the terrorists, the corrupt. He went out of his way to ignore the mores of others around him, if he thought they were wrong. Tax collectors and zealots were mortal enemies... but it didn't stop Jesus appointing one from each group to be among his apostles. In Christ's company, the individual wrongs and weaknesses of both those groups were wiped away and someone new was born within both Levi and Simon. He accepted them as they were and let his nature, his truth transform them. You can only do that from a place of acceptance.

Since when did we decide we should do otherwise? Who preached this message?

Martin Luther King once said that he was convinced that in the final analysis, unarmed truth and unconditional love would have the final say in reality. We were talking about truth the other day and as we discussed, truth needs no weapon to strip us down and bring us crashing to our knees.

We don't need to rage aggressively against the things we disagree with, to make our point stick. If we do, it will not avail us because those are not the weapons we were equipped with. If you look at the armour of God, you'll notice something interesting. Righteousness is not a weapon, it's a breastplate. Righteousness protects us. If we remove it and start battering other people over the head with it, we leave our heart exposed and unguarded... and in the end it will be to our own ruin.

The weapon we are given is sword of the Spirit... the word of God. Scripture describes it as being able to separate marrow from bone. It can discern. In short, it is God's word that convicts people... not our interpretation of that word. A dozen people can be sat in a room and told the same story... and each one will walk away convicted and/or inspired by God in their own way. It is our place to deliver God's message. It is he himself who shapes it and crafts it to fit each individual.

We merely need to be assertive with the unconditional love already given to us by God, extend it to others and be faithful to the word given to us.

There's a Good Friday hymn that we sing in which we proclaim that:

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour's love to me
Love to the loveless shown
That they might lovely be.

This is the message we must reclaim if we are sincere in our belief - if you want someone to be lovely, you have to love them.

I am utterly convinced that Chris Martin was at least in part influenced by that hymn when he wrote the Coldplay song "A Message". That song is the thought I'd like to leave you with tonight. Please listen to it and think very carefully about the people you know who have become lepers, shades or pariahs in your life. Or perhaps you feel that you are on an outcast... and if that is the case, I urge you all the more to listen... because no matter how the facts as you see them seem to be playing out, you do not have to be alone:

May God bless you.


  1. Anonymous6:05 pm

    Some good thoughts, Nick.
    It's worth noting that the Ancient World was afraid of lepers and segregated them largely out of fear, and because they thought it was the most appropriate thing to do. I can't condone it, but I can't blame them, since they didn't know as much about infection control as we do.
    I can't help thinking that some day people will roll their eyes at the precautions we take in hospitals today. New technology may someday erase our concerns over airborne infection, but right now we've got to do the best we can with what we've got.
    But you make an excellent point about Righteousness being a breastplate, not a weapon. I may have to steal that one some time. :)

  2. I love the points you make!!
    I've been thinking alot about the Armor of God lately. My husband and I actually taught a lesson about God's Armor to my kids the other night. I really like how you explain the Sword and the Breastplate and their proper uses. I really, really like that.

    I've been thinking alot about how easily I get the "beam in my own eye." I've been thinking how the Savior showed love to the sinners or lepers(which we all are, as you beautifully explained).

    Christ is the way to light, life and salvation. Christ showed us the way to happiness too... He said, "When you lose yourself in the service of others, you find yourself." He also said, "He that is without sin among you, cast the first stone"

    So here is a little formula I draw from the example of the Savior:

    Key to happiness = Focus on serving and loving others & repenting of our own sins.

    and the reverse...

    Key to misery (way of the Enemy)= Focus on everyone elses sins & how others should serve us.

    Thanks for your encouraging and inspiring posts as always.

  3. P.S.
    You don't mind if I steal your Cold Play song for my player on my blog do you? It's perfect as a message from our Savior. Thanks for sharing!


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