When we read the texts of Jesus healing the leper (Mark 1) and Elisha healing Naaman of his leprosy (2 Kings 5), we instinctively consider the “lepers” of our time and our reaction towards them. Regarding the stigmatization of people living with HIV and AIDS, our thoughts spontaneously tend towards that line of thought: “How do I react towards the rejected in my context?” There are some inspiring thoughts in these two texts:
On the one hand we see Jesus again (as in other miracle stories) being moved by compassion (splagchnizomai – to be moved in your gut/bowels) and then doing the unthinkable, the unprecedented. He reaches out and touches the leper! Remember the strict laws regarding leprosy (Lev 13-14) that were accentuated by the Rabbinic laws in the time of Jesus. Lepers were supposed to live outside the community, the village, town or city. In some communities they would be forced to wear a bell around their necks, like goats. If someone approached, they were prescribed to shout a warning to the one passing by “Unclean! Unclean! I’m unclean!” The Rabbinic law talked about lepers as the living dead. Lepers were the untouchables. Unclean, impure, defiled. So many times Jesus heals by just speaking a word or by giving a command. With the untouchable, he reaches out and touches him.
Elisha on the other hand does not even bother to step out of the building. He heals Naaman by sending a messenger to give a command that Naaman should go and wash himself in the Jordan. We see Naaman’s reaction in 5:11 – a feeling of being rejected, of being unworthy.
Both miracle stories end with rejected lepers being healed, but there’s a great contrast in the way it’s done. The prophet gives a command from the cocoon of religious higher ground. The Messiah is priestly; He is moved to His gut with compassion; He touches. Jesus knows there is a deeper hurt that needs healing. The touch is the miracle!
Maybe there’s a different angle than “our reaction towards the lepers of our time”, because I don’t like that kind of stigmatization, linking leprosy and HIV or AIDS. Let’s just work with leprosy: Leprosy is a skin disease that in severe cases kills the nerve tissue that causes you not to feel anything. It causes a sensory shut down. You get out of touch. You don’t feel.
Maybe we are the lepers. Maybe we are in need of the miracle. Maybe we are living outside of community, on a distance – speaking brave prophetic truths in a spiritual cocoon, while someone is praying Psalm 30:7b to God “…thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.”
May we be touched by the compassionate Christ, may He restore our sensory mode so that we can get in touch again and may we pray “O Lord my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me. O Lord, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.” (Psalm 30:2-3)
To think about: What is the one-step-closer you need to take today to get more in touch with the reality of people who are affected by HIV and AIDS? / Are you out of touch with the brokenness in your community?
Written By: Rev. Pieter Roeloffse, pastor at the Dutch Reformed Congregation of Prince Alfred’s Hamlet.