In the NT, “leprosy” seems not to be limited to Hansen’s disease but denotes various skin diseases that could produce scales, inflammation, or lesions. The priestly legislation regarding the detection and treatment of leprosy is reported in detail in Leviticus 13–14. The Levitical law required that the afflicted person be examined by a priest. If the priest determined that the person had leprosy, he or she was to be quarantined for seven days. At the end of the week, the priest might extend the quarantine a second week or pronounce the person clean or leprous. The law required that a leprous person wear torn clothing, leave his hair disheveled and live alone or with other lepers. When approached by another person, the leper was to cover his or her upper lip and call out, “Unclean, unclean” (Lev -46). Leviticus 14 prescribes a detailed ritual for the cleansing of a leper who has been healed from the disease. The leper must be examined by a priest, a ritual involving two birds was performed, and then the cleansed leper would bathe, shave, and wash his or her clothes before returning to the community.
This story of the healing of a leper in Luke is found also in Mark 1:40-45. Luke, however, states that the man was “covered with leprosy” and so heightens the man’s condition. The leper makes a fervent plea to Jesus as is evident when he falls “on his face” and asserts that Jesus can cure him and make him clean. Jesus reaches out and touches the leper which here could be Luke’s way of showing that Jesus could not be defiled by external laws, rules and regulations. It could also mean that while others would shun an unclean person like a leper and run as far away as possible from him, Jesus draws close and even touches the man. The leper is healed instantly. In Luke, the reason for the man to remain silent and to tell no one seems to be in order to get the certification from the priest that he was clean. Unlike Mark who ends the story by saying that the leper did not obey the command to silence but proclaimed it freely and began to spread the word, Luke does not say anything further about the leper. The text ends with the growing popularity of Jesus and the crowds’ attraction to him. Jesus, however, would always seek solitude and silence and the opportunity to be alone with his father.
Though the scriptures explicate on many occasions that there is no connection between sin and illness, many today attribute diseases, illness and misfortune to sin. Sometimes it is not the individual’s sins but the sins of his/her forefathers which they think are being brought on them. Nothing is further from the truth than this warped way of thinking. Most of the sicknesses today are psychosomatic and those which are not are often the result of an unhealthy life style or in the case of the poor malnutrition. Our response to our own illnesses and to those of others has to be the response of Jesus. The first step towards healing is having a positive attitude as both the leper and Jesus show. The leper approaches Jesus with confidence and a positive attitude and Jesus responds with compassion and love. Jesus makes no judgement on the cause of the leper’s illness but does what he has to do to reach out and heal and this is what we are called to do when we see someone in need of healing. Often it is not external medicine but a kind word, a loving touch or an uninhibited hug that can result in healing. This remains the challenge for us today.