Did you know that this isn’t the first time in history that we have had to practice “social distancing”?  I’m sure it has happened many times, but we have a specific example in the Bible.

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!’  As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp.  Leviticus 13:45-46 (NIV)

You and I may not have the virus.  We may not have a “defiling” disease like leprosy. But during this crisis, we have to cover our faces with masks, and we may feel like we’re “living alone outside the camp”.   Many of our connections with others have been severed.   Even though I’m attempting to stay connected to people at church and in the community, there are days like today when I feel lonely and disconnected.

I was reminded last week in an online sermon that this crisis is nothing new to God.  There is nothing that we are facing, have faced, or are going to face in this life that the Lord hasn’t dealt with.  He has seen it all.  But, it’s new to us, right?

I guess, like everyone else, I thought that this thing would just come and go.  But as Lee Corso, (ESPN analyst) says, “NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND”.   It looks like we’re in it for the long haul.  We live in a society of instant everything, so it’s hard for all of us to get used to an ongoing and seemingly never-ending crisis.

If the virus was not enough, we are also facing other uncertainties in our nation and around the world.   It’s discouraging.  One of the hardest things is to stay positive in an environment surrounded by so much negativity.  Am I whining?  I hope not.  If I am, I’ll stop and get back to Leviticus and the joyful topic of leprosy.

Leprosy is an infectious disease that causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs, and skin areas around the body.  Today it is not much of a threat.  It’s not considered to be highly contagious.  It doesn’t spread easily and treatment is highly effective.  However, leprosy was a serious threat up until the 1940’s, and especially dangerous in ancient Israel.

According to the Talmud, the primary source of Jewish religious and theological law, lepers were required to stay six feet away from other people and 150 feet when there was wind.  Social distancing!  If they didn’t, there could be severe consequences.  If someone had symptoms of leprosy, they had to stay isolated for seven days.  So, everyone gave lepers a wide birth.

As we know, Jesus did not shy away from those who had issues and sickness.  He didn’t always follow the rules and did not pass up opportunities to heal those who asked for it by faith.

This in NO WAY means that I’m advocating that we disobey the rules of social distancing and wearing masks.  Just wanted to make sure that was clear.   I’m not Jesus or God, so the safety of others should be my primary concern. 

That being said, let’s check out what Jesus does in Matthew 8:1-3

“When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy 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.”  Matthew 8:1-3 (NIV)

#1 the man with leprosy knew that he wasn’t supposed to be within six feet of anybody, but HE DID IT ANYWAY.  His future was at stake and worth the risk.  #2 Jesus knew the risk that He and the leper were taking to get close to each other, HE DID IT ANYWAY!  Why?  You ask. I know you’re asking.  I can just tell.  Besides, you already know the answer anyway, and I’m just being silly.

The first reason is obvious, right?  Jesus was God so He didn’t have to worry about getting infected.   He had SUPER CELLS that were impervious to dangerous antibodies, right? But, He was also human.  Philippians 2:6-7 says “Who (Jesus), being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”

Jesus was born into the world like everyone else.  We don’t know much about His life between His birth and public ministry, except for an incident when He was about 12 years old.  So, did Jesus fall down as a child and get boo-boos?  Did he break his arm falling off a camel?  Did He have a snotty nose?  Was he vulnerable to injury and sickness like the rest of us?  If so, He was taking a huge risk by not only talking to this leper, but also and more importantly, “TOUCHING” him!

I’m sure the disciples were probably doing their “protective-damage control bit”.

“Jesus, I wouldn’t do that.  Look, but don’t touch! Leprosy is kind of a big deal.  The Pharisees are watching.  If you do this, you will have to go into quarantine for 7 days.  No more preaching, teaching, or healing!”

But, Jesus DID IT ANYWAY.  He didn’t just say, “be healed” from a safe distance.  He allowed the leper to approach and make a request; then He REACHED out, on purpose, and TOUCHED the man whose body was covered with sores.

The disciples were probably cringing and freaking out a little bit.

“Ewwww!!!  Gross!  I can’t believe He just did that.”

“Run away, run away.” (Sorry, I couldn’t help but add a Monty Python-Holy Grail reference.)

The second reason is also obvious.  Jesus cares.   Matthew 9:36 says, “When He (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  We know that Jesus “wept” when He realized how upset and hurt His earthly family was after Lazarus’ death.   So, He understood pain, anguish, and grief.  He experienced it firsthand throughout His life.  Even though HE WAS GOD, we have to remember that He was also human.

It’s difficult during this time to not feel abandonment, loneliness, and discouragement.  I have to constantly remind myself that, even though I don’t understand God’s plan, HE STILL HAS ONE.  I’m almost hesitant to share this verse because it’s so easily used as a “religious platitude”, but I’m going to in the hopes that its message will encourage all of us again and again.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28 (NIV)

Go ahead and read the rest of the chapter and be encouraged that, “Nothing will EVER be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Romans 8:39 with emphasis added)  NOTHING!

Love y’all!

Robby Morris
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Management
Andrews UMC