A Case of the Dreaded Lurgi

“You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean.”

Leviticus 10:10

When I was very little, and still at primary school, we had a bizarre tradition.  If someone should develop a cough, or sneeze, or have some kind of skin blemish, we would decry that they had the “dreaded lurgi.”  We would then spend the rest of the day avoiding the person, and running away from them if they should come near us.  With hindsight, it seems like a very mean thing to have done, but then I guess that sort of behaviour is normal for small children!  None of us knew what the lurgi was, or why we should treat a poor classmate in this way, but it just happened.  I guess it was just one of those playground traditions that continued down the generations, with no-one really sure why.

In our current article in our Mark Marathon, Jesus visits the home of a tax collector, Levi, who was regarded not just as a traitor, but also as someone who was ‘unclean’.  Jesus is castigated by the Pharisees for spending time with Levi, and makes matters worse himself by sharing a meal with other tax collectors.  According to the Pharisees, our verse today provided them with the justification for their attitude; they believed that the tax collectors were common and unclean, and that Jesus, as a good Jew, should have nothing to do with them, otherwise he might be tainted with their unclean-ness.  Unfortunately, this verse is not referring to people at all, but this attitude of the Pharisees seems to have been one of those traditions that was handed down over time, but no-one could really remember the reason for it.

Not only should we be careful about labeling people unclean, but Jesus tells us that the outcasts in our society are precisely those we should be helping.  So the next time you cross the road to avoid someone who looks slightly dodgy, the next time you walk past aBig Issue seller without buying a copy, the next time you blank someone because they are in some way different to you, just ask yourself this: what would Jesus do?

Is This Blasphemy?

Say to the Israelites: ‘If anyone curses his God, he will be held responsible; anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death.

Leviticus 24:15-16

If, like me, you enjoy listening to Terry Wogan in the morning whilst you’re getting ready for the day, you will surely have been saddened by his news last week that he is to retire from the Breakfast Show.  Chris Evans will do a good job when he takes over, and I’m already looking forward to Terry’s weekend show, but mornings will not be the same.  Some years ago, though, people were saying that about evenings.  Prior to rejoining Radio 2, Terry used to present a chat show on BBC 1.  One of his most famous guests on the show was David Icke.  In 1991, on Wogan, as the show was called, David Icke announced to the world that he was the son of God.  His claim was met with laughter by the studio audience, and he has been ridiculed ever since.

Had David Icke made this comment in Old Testament times, he would not have been able to repeat his claim.  He would have been taken outside the camp and stoned to death; this is the punishment that God tells Moses he must impose in our passage today.

The reason for highlighting this passage today is to show what the consequences of Jesus’ actions in Mark 2, the focus of our current article, could be.  By claiming that he had the right to forgive sins, he was blaspheming, since in the eyes of the Pharisees, only God has the right to forgive sins.  Jesus is here laying claim to his divinity; he is showing that he is God.  This is quite some claim, and clearly has greatly angered the leaders of the Jews.

But what if Jesus is speaking the truth?  What if he does have the right to forgive sins?  What if he is the Son of God?  Where does that leave the Pharisees?  Where does that leave us?

The Reason for the Rule

“The person with such an infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.

Leviticus 13:45-46

When we’re growing up, life seems to be full of rules that we don’t fully understand.  I had an R.E. teacher at my primary school who was obsessed with handkerchiefs.  He insisted that we always had one on our person, and if anyone sneezed without using a hankie, there would be hell to pay – usually in the form of running around the school’s large playing field.  For us at the time, though, at the age of eight, the reason for the hankie was not made clear.  It wasn’t explained to us that we needed to use it to catch germs and prevent infections from spreading; it simply became one of those rules that we adhered to simply to avoid punishment.

Today’s verses may seem strange ones to have for a Daily Reading, but they contrast directly with the attitude of Christ we see highlighted in our current article, which focuses on Mark 1:35-45.  In Mark’s gospel, Jesus reaches out and touches a man with leprosy, and he is instantly healed.  We will consider these verses tomorrow.

For today, though, it is worth considering just why this apparently harsh rule is given to the Jews.  As with many laws in the Old Testament, it was no doubt important at the time; the Jewish people were trekking across the desert, and needed to stay fit and healthy.  The last thing they needed was for someone with a contagious disease to spread his illness amongst all the other people living in the camp.  For this reason, God commands that lepers must remain outside the camp, clearly showing that they have leprosy, until they have been healed.  Far from being an overtly harsh measure, then, this is an act of love; God is asking for the lepers to act in the best interests of all his people, in order to keep them fit, well and safe.

From this, it becomes clear that God is always working for the best of his people.  It might not always seem that way at the time, but our God is an all-knowing God who knows what is in our bests interests, even if we ourselves do not.  Perhaps, then, we should be more trusting of God; rather than questioning what is happening to us, perhaps we should accept that he is in control, and is working for the benefit of all his people.