Clean and Unclean
There are two stories (or maybe two versions of the same story) that I love in the Bible. They can be found in Matthew 8 and Mark 1 respectively. It’s the story of Jesus and the leper. The story is powerful for a lot of reasons. Some of those reasons were covered in a good Wednesday night talk by Adam Smart and Steve Norman that you can find here but I am interested in a different aspect of things.
These stories are powerful for several reasons. One, leprosy was a condition for which a person was immediately removed from your city. All it took was a person pointing to something on your skin, someone else seconding the prognosis and you were kicked out of the city. Two, anyone who touched you while you had the condition was likewise to be removed from the city because Jews believed the condition was contagious. Therefore, anyone who touched an infected person was assumed to have contracted the condition as well. Finally, these lepers had very little social contact with anyone except those who were likewise removed from society. Lepers would start their own small camps outside the city walls where they would create unclean communities together.
These laws and sanctions against lepers come out of Leviticus:
5:3 “If a person touches human uncleanness—anything that would make him unclean—even though he is unaware, he is unclean.”
13:45 “A person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes and let his hair be unkempt, over the lower part of his face and cry out ‘unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean; he must live outside of the camp.”
The idea here is obviously that clean is the least powerful of the two, because when clean comes in contact with unclean, then it becomes unclean. This precipitates much of the law of the Jews and almost leads to the idea that darkness is stronger than light.
The leper walks up to Jesus the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jesus had just finished laying out a whole new way of looking at the world. In the sermon Jesus does away with the idea that darkness is stronger than light. He says, “When you put salt in your food, the food doesn’t make the salt unsalty. And when you put a light in a dark room, the darkness doesn’t dim the light. No, the salt makes food salty, and the light brightens the dark room.” (Matthew 5:13-16 CAT-Cole’s Awesome Translation)
So, when the leper walks up to Jesus, it’s a magic moment where Jesus has to put his money where his mouth is. He reaches out and touches the leper, and immediately the leper is healed and clean. The clean purified the unclean. He showed that clean is stronger than unclean, light is stronger than darkness, good is stronger than evil.
This has far too many implications to flesh out in a 500-word blog post. But just bare in mind when the odds are stacked against you, when you are fighting for good against a world of evil, when you feel like the only candle in a sea of darkness–you are making a difference. When you are confronted with sadness, loneliness, heart break or corruption; when you have a literal or figurative leper in front of you, your touch can scatter the darkness, help mend a heart and restore something broken.
The light in you is stronger than the darkness anywhere else.