Day 65: Matthew 8:4

Listen! Don’t tell anyone, but go straight to the priest and let him examine you; then in order to prove to everyone that you are cured, offer the sacrifice that Moses ordered.

After Jesus heals the man with a “dreaded skin disease,” he gives him these instructions.

The first thing people often say when they read this scripture is that they don’t understand why Jesus wouldn’t want the man to shout it from the rooftops about his miraculous healing. 

Jesus may also be acting out the principle on Day 39 from the Sermon on the Mount, “So when you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it, as the hypocrites do in the houses of worship and on the streets.”

In my opinion Jesus’ primary concern is for the man, who has been quarantined and cannot get back to his normal life until he is declared “ritually clean” by the priest.  If the priest knew that Jesus had somehow caused the healing, it might hurt the man’s chances of being pronounced “clean.”

Just to provide a little background, this is what happened if you lived in Jesus’ time and got a “dreaded skin disease” as described in the Law of Moses (Leviticus Chapter 13).

Let’s say you get an unexplained sore.  You are immediately taken to the priest for examination.  If he gives the diagnosis “dreaded skin disease,” then you are declared “ritually unclean.” There is no compassionate response and no recourse.  You are treated like a criminal, because there is an assumption that you have brought this on yourself by committing a terrible sin.

Now that you have been declared ritually unclean, no one is allowed to touch you.  You must move out of the camp (town) away from all the other people, including your family.  You must wear torn clothes, leave your hair uncombed, cover the lower part of your face, and call out, “Unclean, unclean!” whenever anyone approaches you. You are not only sick, you are alone.  You are a refugee and an outcast.  You are not allowed to get near your spouse or children or friends.  You are not allowed to get anywhere near the place of worship.  No get well cards, no chicken soup, no chocolates and flowers, no caring nurses.  No tea and sympathy. You are basically cast out and left alone to die, because clearly you have sinned. God has abandoned you so everyone else must do the same.

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Now, Jesus has miraculously healed you, but you still have to go through all the procedures in Leviticus Chapter 14 before you can get back to normal.

On the day that you are healed from your “dreaded skin disease” you go to the priest who examines you, kills a bird, dips another live bird in the blood of the dead bird and then releases it, splatters blood around, and tells you to get washed up, cut your hair, shave, etc.,   and make yourself presentable.  Now you can go back to the camp (town), but you have to stay outside your tent (house) for seven more days.  After that if you get yourself cleaned up one more time you are “clean” enough for people to touch you again. 

However, you are not done yet.  You still have to satisfy God and the priest before things can get back to normal.  On the eighth day you must bring two male lambs and one female lamb, five pounds of flour mixed with olive oil, and half a pint of olive oil to the priest.  The priest kills one of the male lambs and then smears blood on your thumbs, toes, and earlobes as a “repayment offering,” also referred to as “restitution offering” or “penalty offering” in other translations of the Bible. In other words, this is the price you must pay to make up for getting sick. 

Then the other male lamb is killed and burned up along with the flour as a “sin offering” because it’s assumed that whenever you get sick it’s because you sinned. God must therefore be appeased with a burnt offering, even though you are now well.  I don’t know what happens with the female lamb.  I think the priest gets to keep it.  Now you are done.  You can go back and live in your house.  You are “officially” healed and are fully reintegrated back into your community with full rights and privileges.  Probably the first thing you do is get cleaned up again to wash off all the blood the priest slimed you with.

Talk about jumping through hoops.  And I’ve left out a lot of the details, especially about the splattering and smearing.  Imagine having to go through all of that even though you are already well!  It’s kind of a negative incentive for getting better.  It’s a wellness tax, and an expensive one – that’s a lot of livestock for an ordinary person.  And it doesn’t even make sense.  If you are well, God must have gotten over his anger already!  Why does he still need to be appeased? 

This was what it was like to get sick back in Jesus’ day.  Sickness was a sign of moral failure.   It was your own fault.  And then, as now, it was very expensive but nowadays you get a lot more services for the money!  As we go along we’ll see how Jesus builds the case that it’s time to get rid of all those crazy priestly rituals, even though they are part of the Law of Moses.   And it’s usually pretty hard to change people’s rituals, even when those rites are abusive and irrational and expensive.

What does this scripture say to you?

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