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Light from the Sidra

Metzura

Leviticus 14:1-15:33.Haftarah. 2 Kings 7:3-20

The last few years has witnessed a rash of movies about zombies, beings who can best be described as the “living dead”. The social commentator John W Whitehouse theorises that “These films are more than a frightening foray into cinema. They express our repressed fears and expose us to the dark side of human nature—something so destructive that it cannot be controlled. And once it is unleashed, all hell breaks loose” (www.rutherford.org/articles_db/commentary.asp?record_id=680).

In ancient Israel, there was a class of people who were so “dangerous” and potentially destructive to the nation’s holiness that they had to be excluded from normal society. Today, we don’t ostracise sufferers from eczema, psoriasis, ringworm, leucoderma or lesions caused by boils and burns, but in ancient Israel some skin diseases (called in our English Bibles “leprosy”) were so serious that they required the sufferer to be expelled from the community and thus from the temple, the house of God. If you suffered from leprosy, you were one of the living dead. You were cut off from contact with the people of God and from fellowship with God himself.

The priests served not only as the peoples’ representatives before God but also as community health inspectors, and it was part of the duties of the priest to examine skin diseases and to distinguish “leprosy” from simple rashes and the like.

As we saw in last week’s reading, ritual “uncleanness” was not to be confused with personal sin. Nevertheless in the Torah, disease and sin were linked in the sense that they were a reminder that death is the result of sin (see Genesis 3) and any form of disease was an advance warning of death and could mark its imminence. The leper therefore was excluded from the house of God until he (or she) was certified “clean”.

When Jesus healed lepers, it was not merely that they might be restored to society but also they might also be restored to fellowship with God. Therefore, he instructed the lepers he healed to follow the cleansing rituals outlined in Leviticus 14 so they could once again partake in the worship of God.

The rituals prescribed in Vayikra 14 were a recognition that healing had already taken place. In the Gospel According to Luke 17:11–19, Jesus instructed ten lepers to present themselves to a priest for cleansing before they had actually been healed. In so doing, he was calling them to an exercise of faith and, as the men believed, they were healed en route to the temple.

The cleansing rituals were lengthy, significant and public and, as Christopher J H Wright points out, they “amounted to the celebration of new life as the person was restored from virtual death to the land of the living and to communion with God.”

The choice of Haftarah is interesting because the lepers who bring salvation to Samaria were not healed; they remained outcasts even though they saved the city. In the Tanakh, the only record of a leper being healed is found in 2 Kings 5. The leper was Naaman: he was an enemy of the Jewish people; he never presented himself to the priest for cleansing; and he remained Torah unobservant, having to bow the knee to the pagan god Rimmon when he accompanied.

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