As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean,
since he is in fact unclean.
He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp."
The human race, perhaps more than any other species, is subject to innumerable genetic defects, disabilities and illnesses -- not to mention accidents, catastrophes and old age. Born utterly helpless, remaining so for several years, and never fully independent, the individual survives only with the help of others. Ostracism -- being sent "outside the camp' -- can be a death sentence.
I often meet Veterans in the hospital who say they "don't want to be a burden to others." I remind them that they have helped others; it's our turn to help them. But that mindset of share-and-share-alike, of interdependence, has not been the dominant cultural ethos. Usually they have been told, "Don't be a burden. You should be able to care for yourself. Don't expect anyone to help you. We don't like burdens. Am I my brother's keeper?"
If the Veteran was not in a caregiving profession he might not understand the dynamic of reciprocity that facilitates our human existence. Many Veterans, particularly those who have suffered moral injury, would prefer to live like the deer or the wild birds, free and functioning, responsible to no one because (they feel) no one has been responsible to them, until they drop dead.
There are many references to clean/unclean in the Old and New Testaments. The concept is alien to us and I've never heard a complete explanation. Unclean doesn't always mean immoral but it always makes one's company undesirable. There is shame attached to that; not about one's behavior but about oneself. "We can do without you!" is the implied, if not explicit, message.
Today that curse falls not only on diseased and disabled persons, it falls on minorities of every sort: refugees, migrants, gays, transgender persons, certain religions, many ethnic and racial minorities. Because we have mechanized so much labor, we need fewer workers; and the only "desirable" individuals are either wealthy or highly skilled.
Technology promised more leisure time. It has not delivered. Active people are furiously busy, and few "useful" persons can resist the demands upon them for fear of being discarded. Instead, technology has given us more "undesirable" persons.
A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,
"If you wish, you can make me clean."
Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand,
touched him, and said to him,
"I do will it. Be made clean."
We must notice Jesus' immediate response to the leper. We should understand that when he touched the leper he risked uncleanness. People around him should have shunned his presence until he had undergone the ceremonial washing rituals.
But cleanness went out of him and purified others.
If the modern concept of "unclean" is "useless," we must develop the vision to see the useful beauty of every human being. Everyone belongs, everyone has a vital role to play in our human society. The needy and helpless are especially necessary to our existence.
I have known families who were blessed with severely disabled children, but they were not "disabled." They were "Mike," "Billy" or "Carol." They were given responsibilities and they fulfilled them. Invariably these families were closer, healthier and happier. They saw what strangers could not see and marveled at God's goodness.
Jesus's immediate, impulsive, unhesitating kindness sets the example for our service to one another. Our only disabilities are spiritual; touched by the Lord, we are healed.