Part 1: Diagnosis
Amid the sunshine, breezy air, and chirping birds, I sat glumly. Normally a winter day like this would have brought joy to my heart. But today I wondered if I could ever be joyful again. I drove another nail into the cart. My papa had been to the priest today, to be examined. He had found a sore on his arm that morning, of the kind that could make him unclean. The priest had declared him ceremonially unclean. Papa was sent outside the camp. I did not know if I would ever see him again.
And I, at seventeen, was head of the household, unless – until – Adonai healed my father. I knew He could, and I prayed He would – and quickly. Until papa was healed, not only could he not be with us, his family, but he was cut off from making sacrifices and worshiping Adonai.
I sighed as I noticed the nail I had driven in was crooked. As I worked to pull it out, I remembered what papa had said that morning.
“It is not because of sin, my son, nor am I being cut off because of any sin. My uncleanness is only ceremonial. My disease suggests death and decay, and those cannot be near our Holy Adonai, even with sacrifices. You remember the many laws Moses and Aaron told us, laws from Adonai, about unclean animals, skin diseases, and bodily discharges. He gave them to us because we are His people, and these laws help reconcile the fracture of our relationship that happened when Adam sinned. Adonai is Holy, pure, and set apart, and we must be as well. That is what these laws are for. Don’t hate them, my son. Love them, because they make us more like Him.”
I had stopped working while I remembered my father’s words. I knew that papa was right. It was for our good that we had these laws. I used to think they were to keep us safe and healthy. They do prevent some ills, but more than that they are because if the unclean approaches Adonai, we shall die.
Although I would miss my papa, I knew that I would rather him be cut off from the camp than killed by the wrath of Adonai for drawing near to Him in a way other than had been commanded. I shuddered as I remembered the death of Nadab and Abihu. I did not want that to happen to any of us.
Adonai’s laws were designed to keep Him, the Holy, from the contaminated. And what would happen, I wondered, if Adonai were near the contaminated? For a priest to touch the unclean made him unclean. The clean could not make the unclean clean, but the unclean made the clean dirty. If our uncleanness would make Adonai dirty, I was glad that the unclean were cut off. I did not want a God who was impure like the idols of the nations. I wanted a God who was holy, even if it meant my own father was cut off.
As I finished the cart and went to wash for the evening meal, I concluded. It was the goodness of Adonai that brought these laws. He was not being cruel and unjust, but giving us a chance, and protecting us from our own sin.
It made me love Him more, and remembering His goodness gave me hope. Perhaps He would heal my father. But if not, I would still trust His Holiness.
Part 2: Cure
Lepers, I thought, disgusted. There seemed to be no end to the number of lepers in Galilee. And I, as gate keeper, had to deal with many who tried to get into the city. Now there was one stopping a man who was trying to enter. I was about to turn my eyes away, expecting the usual response of “Be gone, you’re unclean!” from those the lepers approached, but this time it was different.
The leper knelt before this man. “If you will,” he said, “you can make me clean.”
Who did the leper think this man was? Some kind of miracle-worker? If the man came any closer to the leper, he would be unclean! Surely this man was not so naïve as to think his cleanliness could make the leper clean. It didn’t work that way.
But the man seemed to pity the leper, and stretched out his hand. I looked on in horror. Touching a leper?
“I will,” the man said. “Be clean.” He touched the leper.
Horror changed to astonishment as the leper’s skin changed. He was healed! A few more words passed between the two, and then the leper entered the city, going from the unclean, into the city, toward the priests. As he walked under the gate he looked up at me.
“I’m clean!” He shouted. “Jesus has made me clean! I am no longer cut off; I can enter the city!”
Jesus? I had heard that name before. People said He was a great teacher, and could work miracles.
In the weeks that followed, I heard that the news of the leper’s healing had caused many to come to Jesus. In fact, so many were seeking Him that Jesus could no longer enter the towns, but was instead remaining in desolate places! I almost laughed at the irony: it was as if Jesus Himself had become unclean in healing the leper. Although I knew He was not unclean, Jesus had traded places with the leper, and was cast off outside the camp.
He had provided a cure for the leper. The laws of the priests diagnosed diseases, and then cut the sick off to keep them from Adonai. Disease suggested death, decay, and the ebbing of life. We had to keep that from Adonai. I knew that very well; it was often my job to keep the unclean from entering the city.
This Jesus had cured, though. The laws only said what was wrong, then begged for an unknown cure. It seemed Jesus was this cure. Maybe at last we could be free from our dietary restrictions, and maybe the lengthy cleansing rituals could stop. I knew Adonai was concerned with our purity, in every area of life, and laws of ceremonial cleanliness were His provision for us to fellowship with Him. But they were cumbersome. And if we had a cure, if Jesus was a cure, and if He was the Son of God as He claimed to be, then maybe it could all stop, and there would be another way we could display Adonai’s character to the world.
Years later, I heard that there was a way, and that I had been right: Jesus was the cure. Because of His death and atonement for our sin, being the sacrificial lamb in our place, ceremony and ritual were no longer necessary for us to come to God. His death was enough for all our sin, all our uncleanliness. Before Jesus, we were set apart ethnically, and that was demonstrated by what we ate (and didn’t eat), and keeping death and decay far from God. It seemed so strange to me that it was death that brought us near to God in the end.
The laws were a shadow, showing us the purity God required. Jesus was that purity. Now, Jew and gentile alike were His people. There were no external barriers to God, but the inward purity of the heart. Jesus Himself declared all foods clean, and said it was what comes out of the heart, not into the body, that makes us unclean.
Things have changed. Life is different for us now, because of Jesus. But we still display God’s character to the world. We have to ask ourselves, “Are we living in a way that is set apart to God?”
Day-to-day life is not the same in our city anymore. Things are still changing as we learn more about Jesus. But of one thing I am sure: our God will never change. He is and always will be, Holy.