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Lessons in the Desert: The Untouchables and the Rejected

14 July 2021

In 2003, I joined a small team of people from MBC who spent two weeks at Chandraghona Hospital, Bangladesh and the nearby village of Jhum Para, where most of the families had been leprosy patients over many years, and had been sponsored by MBC families for food, school fees and clothing. In addition to spending time at the hospital, I also had the chance to visit local primary and secondary schools, the Treatment Centre for leprosy patients and the local Blind School. It was quite a life changing experience for me. This lovely gentleman in Jhum Para, whose body had been damaged by leprosy, possessed nothing but his simple hut, a few cooking pots and a Bible. Yet he was filled with the love of Christ. I was very much affected by this lovely individual. There are many people in our society and world today who are on the very margin of life. Jesus wants to reach these people.In Matthew 8 we read that Jesus came down from the mountain with the cheers of the crowd still ringing in his ears. Then a leper appeared and dropped to his knees before Jesus, praying, “Master, if you want to, you can heal my body.”  Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, “I want to. Be clean.” Then and there, all signs of the leprosy were gone. Jesus said, “Don’t talk about this all over town. Just quietly present your healed body to the priest, along with the appropriate expressions of thanks to God. Your cleansed and grateful life, not your words, will bear witness to what I have done.” Then, in the country of the Gadarenes Jesus and his disciples were met by two madmen coming out of the cemetery, victims of demons. The men had terrorized the region for so long that no one considered it safe to walk down that stretch of road anymore. Seeing Jesus, the men screamed out, “What business do you have giving us a hard time? You’re the Son of God! You weren’t supposed to show up here yet!” Once again, Jesus dealt with the situation and the men were freed from their horrible bondage.

Mental ill health, leprosy and other skin diseases came with terrible consequences. Each of these men were regarded as unclean, defiled and were shunned and isolated from any community. They met with isolation, rejection, prejudice, and stigma and they were treated as if they were dead. They would experience great need and desperation. A person with leprosy had to keep 2 meters away from any other person-this was social distancing in Bible times. It would be a desert existence for them. The men among the tombs in the graveyard, were forced to live quite literally among the dead.

We read that this leper came and worshipped Jesus. His need was impossible and yet he came with a simple request. “If you are willing” you can heal me. He was not doubting that Jesus could heal him, “I know you can do it”, he was questioning whether Jesus was willing to do this thing. With an overwhelming act of love and compassion, Jesus touches him. The first human touch that this man had felt in a very long time, and he is healed. His changed and thankful life would witness to the power of Christ in his life.

There are many people in our society who may feel marginalised or ostracised, and left out in a ‘desert’, and yet the compassion of Jesus needs to reach them through us. We are the ones who can bring the touch of Jesus to them. As we begin to come out of the harshest of restrictions may we not simply be glad to meet up with our friends, those ‘who are like me’, my social group, but may we look out for those who are on the edge of things and bring them in from the desert.

An ancient prayer

We ask you, Master, be our helper and defender. Rescue those of our number in distress; raise up the fallen; assist the needy; heal the sick; turn back those of your people who stray; feed the hungry; release our captives; revive the weak; encourage those who lose heart. Let all the nations realize that you are the only God, that Jesus Christ is your Child, and that we are your people and the sheep of your pasture.

(1 Clement c. 96)

Jane Coates

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