“The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp.”
Judging by the full catalog of descriptions in Leviticus 13 along with the detailed instructions for purification in the first half of chapter 14, leprosy is a description of various skin ailments that are mostly temporary, rather than lifelong, unalterable conditions. I base that conclusion on the meticulous list of symptoms in chapter 13, on the weekly check-ups priests must carry out on behalf of inflicted pilgrims, and on the ceremonial sacrifices that must be made when the infected person is healed. That’s not to say that some rare and chronic disease didn’t exist, but it softens the blow of this tragic prognosis here in Leviticus 13, pointing out that a phrase like ‘he shall be unclean as long as he has the disease’ hints that this isn’t typically a lifelong banishment from the assembly.
There’s no Edenic cherub with a flaming sword hovering over this commonwealth, scowling at those with boils and lesions and rashes as if they’ve been plagued like Pharaoh for stiffening their necks against God. This isn’t a moral judgement for some moral crime. It’s a policy of preservation for the wellbeing of the commonwealth on the whole. Like a lockdown during a pandemic where only the infected people are quarantined, rather than the entire population, a leprous man is removed from the congregation to stop the spread of the virus.
That said, we shouldn’t miss the serious analogy leprosy provides for unchecked sin in our lives. Like a virus, sin spreads rapidly. It isn’t content to remain in the shadows and rest in one covert spot of our body. It’s a conquistador. It wants the whole body, the whole mind, the whole soul. It moves from limb to limb, from impulse to impulse, from ambition to ambition, until all is defiled.
Friend, let’s take Leviticus 13 as a call to get all the hidden, unconfessed, leprous stuff out of our hearts today. Call it what it is to God: unclean! And get rid of it before it spreads.