Simon the Leper: From Honored to Ostracized
Simon sat on the rocky ledge, not moving, not sure what to do. You must be very angry at me, God. You have taken my livelihood, my place of honor, my family and my friends. My wife is probably a different person now. My girls have forgotten me. It’s been nearly a year. And yet here You leave me in this leper colony to watch my body decay piece by piece? I just want to know why.
His rants toward God were nearly constant now. God could heal him—Simon believed that. Yet God had left him here, as if He had forgotten entirely about Simon and his awful disease.
The person afflicted with an infectious skin disease is to have his clothes torn and his hair hanging loose, and he must cover his mouth and cry out, “Unclean, unclean!” He will remain unclean as long as he has the infection; he is unclean. He must live alone in a place outside the camp.” (Lev. 13:45-46)
Of all of the diseases in the Bible, none was more serious than leprosy. Leprosy was a terrible skin and nerve disease believed to be caused by sin against God. Because of the contagiousness of the disease during that time period—and because those with the disease were considered unclean—lepers were banished to isolation, away from their family, friends, and community. They were no longer permitted to worship with their community—an isolation with spiritual ramifications.
Psalm 38 expresses the anguish that many lepers, and those suffering with unclean skin diseases felt.
There is no health in my body because of Your indignation; there is no strength in my bones because of my sin. For my sins have flooded over my head; they are a burden too heavy for me to bear.
My wounds are foul and festering because of my foolishness. I am bent over and brought low; all day long I go around in mourning. For my loins are full of burning pain, and there is no health in my body. I am faint and severely crushed; I groan because of the anguish of my heart.
Lord, my every desire is known to You; my sighing is not hidden from You. My heart races, my strength leaves me, and even the light of my eyes has faded. My loved ones and friends stand back from my affliction, and my relatives stand at a distance. Those who seek my life set traps, and those who want to harm me threaten to destroy me; they plot treachery all day long. […] Lord, do not abandon me; my God, do not be far from me. Hurry to help me, Lord, my Savior.” (Ps. 38:3-12,21-22)
Not only was their physical pain intense, but they were emotionally tormented by the physical and social rejection they experienced from others.
Jesus’ compassion changed many lepers’ lives. The Gospels are filled with examples of Jesus’ healing, including lepers. Many were amazed and astounded at His power and compassion. Jesus did not hesitate to touch lepers, where others would run away from them. Jesus, of course, recognized that a person’s outward condition is not what made someone unclean; rather, it is a person’s heart that determines his or her standing with God.
While He was in one of the towns, a man was there who had a serious skin disease all over him. He saw Jesus, fell facedown, and begged Him: “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Reaching out His hand, He touched him, saying, “I am willing; be made clean,” and immediately the disease left him. Then He ordered him to tell no one: “But go and show yourself to the priest, and offer what Moses prescribed for your cleansing as a testimony to them.” But the news about Him spread even more, and large crowds would come together to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses.” (Luke 5:12-15)
According to the Law, a leper must present himself before a priest, and only the priest could declare him clean and reunite him back into the community (see Lev. 14:1-32). Jesus told the leper to go the priest to offer visual proof that he had been healed.
Just as Simon went from honored to ostracized, we sometimes have relationships that are not what they once were.
Excerpted from Karen Kingsbury, The Friends of Jesus Bible Study © 2015 Lifeway Press®. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission.