I had a video conversation with an elder friend this week. As she entered her second month of sheltering in place, she looked back on time spent in quarantine as a child with scarlet fever. One memory that caught my attention was how the postal carrier was willing to deliver her lessons from school so she could keep up with her studies. In that time, with those fears and limitations, it was a kindness that he could offer.
Contagious diseases have caused fear, quarantine, and kindness throughout history. In Jesus’ time, one such dreaded disease was leprosy. This cluster of skin diseases was seen as transmittable and dangerous, causing the deterioration of skin and nerves that led to accidents, infections, and even amputations. Since there was no known cure, infected people were quarantined in groups with other lepers. Since they were unclean, they could not enter the Temple or participate in religious services. Nor could they mingle with family and friends—unless their friends were other lepers.
Scripture tells us that a bold leper actually broke with the convention of quarantine, came right up to Jesus, knelt before him, and asked to be cleaned. Jesus showed him kindness, reaching out, touching the man, and healing him. I can imagine that Jesus touching that leper caused fear to strike the hearts of many who were with him. Yet Jesus knew he was capable of providing healing, so he was not afraid.
Today we are facing a contagious disease which is causing much fear around the world, and modern versions of quarantine (including thousands of people dying alone, or at least without loved ones beside them). In some ways, our scientific advancements have made this pandemic much more understandable than leprosy, or even scarlet fever. We know what causes it to spread, and what we can do to avoid that spread. On the other hand, we aren’t yet capable of providing healing. As a result, even with all our modern science, we are afraid. We must quarantine ourselves.
In that quarantine, Christ still reaches out to touch us—through scripture, through online worship, through prayers and memes and posts and chats on social media. Christ reaches out through the hands and hearts of others: groceries left on doorsteps and masks sewn at kitchen tables (as another friend has done with the masks above). While the healing we share is not (yet) physical, the spiritual and emotional cleansing that comes through modern technology is lifesaving on multiple levels.
How are you called to be Christ’s hands, heart, and presence in your community today? How can you reach out to others with kindness during our continued quarantine?