In a recent podcast I did with John Leemasters titled “The Leper And The Incarcerated, The Outcast Of Society” we talked about the similarities between the life of a Leper in biblical times to the life of an incarcerated individual today. After doing this particular interview I was moved to go and do a more in-depth study on leprosy, the treatment of lepers and the hope that a leper had and draw out the similarities with the incarcerated.
Early on in my study of leprosy I was led to a passage of scripture, Leviticus 13, where it says that anyone suspected of having this disease had to go to a priest for examination. If found to be infected, the leprous person who has the disease was to wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He was to remain unclean as long as he has the disease.
Leprosy in ancient times was incurable by man, many believed God inflicted the curse of leprosy upon people for the sins they committed. In fact, those with leprosy were so despised and loathed that they were not allowed to live in any community with their own people. Among the sixty-one defilements of ancient Jewish laws, leprosy was second only to a dead body in seriousness. A leper wasn’t allowed to come within six feet of any other human, including his own family. The disease was considered so revolting that the leper wasn’t permitted to come within 150 feet of anyone when the wind was blowing. Lepers lived in a community with other lepers until they either got better or died.
So you may ask where are the similarities to the incarcerated in our time? First many believed God inflicted the curse upon people for the sins they committed. Today men still commit sin some sins we view often more hideous then others, those who commit these sins are taken before the courts to be found guilty and then sentenced, much like those men and women in Leviticus 13 that go before the priest for examination and sentenced as unclean. The physical distress and the emotional response to a future of disease and death is only part of the burden of the leper. They become society’s despised outcasts. They were driven from their homes and had to live outside the city. Today when men and women are found guilty of their crimes many also become society’s despised outcasts, they are driven from their homes and everything they love and is dear to them and live in society’s trash heaps called prisons.
Now let me stop here and say I believe in incarceration. I believe there needs to be a punishment for the wrongs that we make. But I don’t believe that we as Christians should forget about them or chose not to engage them. There are no outcasts to God, He loves them all! Shouldn’t we? Regardless of what they have done! Who are we that we put limits on who we can love and who we can’t? We can read that it did not take long before a leper’s spirit would be broken, and his self-image would deteriorate so that he considered himself unworthy of love or companionship. Today many who are incarcerated, their spirits have been broken, their self-image has deteriorated and they feel unworthy of love and companionship. Society doesn’t care! Do we as Christians care? Or do we believe we should just lock them up and throw away the key?
We can read in the Bible that there was hope for a leper, that hope was found in Jesus. In Matthew 8 the Bible records the story of a leper who was the first to be healed by Jesus. This man had heard about Jesus, the healer and the Savior who can help him out of this condition. And so he came to Jesus, begging him on his knees. His lack of confidence in himself was evident as he cried out in a state of helplessness and self-pity, “If you are willing, you can make me clean!” Jesus being moved by pity and filled with compassion stretched out his hands and touched him! People around him were shocked to see that! “How can Jesus touch an unclean? He would also become ‘unclean’.” Some whispered! But there was a reverse phenomenon at work. Jesus’s touch healed him and not only healed his body but his soul as well.
You see friends there is also hope for the outcast of our society (those in our prisons). That hope is in Jesus. Just like the Leper in Matthew 8 they need to hear about Jesus, the healer, the One the saves! Are you willing to reach out to the incarcerated, are you willing to share with them Jesus? Prisons are full of broken people that need the touch of Jesus the healer. What are you going to do about it?