Love, Lepers, and Social Distancing

When we change from handshakes and hugs to social distancing, what remains? Read Luke 17:11-19. The Healing of the Ten Lepers in Luke 17 has always been a great text to teach about gratitude. During the Covid19 pandemic I have been reading Scripture with a different lens. There are ten lepers who are a distance from Jesus. Leprosy is a skin disease. In Jesus’ day, lepers were required to practice social distancing from the rest of society. They were not allowed to touch or hug their loved ones. They lost their jobs. They could not go to the market to buy or sell. They were not allowed to walk down the street. They were not even allowed to live in their own homes. They were forced to live in leper colonies outside of the town and they were dependent on other people to provide food, clothes, and medicine. They asked Jesus for mercy. Almost every healing miracle of Jesus includes some kind of touch. Jesus touched the blind man’s eyes and he could see. Jesus touched a leper in Mark 1 and he is healed. A woman touches the hem of Jesus’ garment and she is healed. The healing of the ten lepers did not involve touch. Jesus instructed the ten lepers to show themselves to the priest. One returned to thank Jesus for the healing. When I read this Scripture today, the lepers were quarantined because of their disease. When they speak to Jesus, we find them practicing “social distancing” which was a legal requirement in Jesus day. Jesus’ instructions to go to the priest is missed in the context of our culture. The priest would have declared the lepers clean, and therefore, would be able to “reenter” society. The priest was more than a medical examiner, he was a spiritual guide. After the leper would have been declared “clean” by the priest, the leper’s next step would have been to worship at the Temple. The joy that is experienced by the leper is hard for us to identify with but, we may be able to come close. Many of us continue to shelter at home. Many of us are dependent on others to bring us food and medicine. Many of us are missing the compassionate touch of another human being. Many of us miss being in a physical assembly worship our Lord and savior. When we cry for mercy, Jesus hears us whether we are near or far. We can still praise God from our living rooms. We can still be cleansed of our sins in the kitchen. We can still say our nighttime prayers from our bedrooms. We can still soak in the glory of God’s nature from our porches and balconies. We can still receive God’s spiritual touch when we practice social distancing. We can still be compassionate even if we cannot be by another’s side. When everything is changing, God’s love remains.

Come Holy Spirit, in the absence of physical touch, give us a spiritual touch. May our love fill us and may your mercies be new each morning. Give us compassion for one another. Amen.