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9 “When anyone has a defiling skin disease, they must be brought to the priest.10 The priest is to examine them, and if there is a white swelling in the skin that has turned the hair white and if there is raw flesh in the swelling, 11 it is a chronic skin disease and the priest shall pronounce them unclean. He is not to isolate them, because they are already unclean. (Leviticus 13:9-11 NIV)
These conditions were hard to hide I imagine – such obvious diseases of the skin would be visible to others. Background reading on these passages suggests, too, that these illnesses were not leprosy (the symptoms described are different) but other illnesses like psoriasis. The conditions described we know today are not contagious.
The word rendered “defiling” here is “plague” in KJV. The distinction seems to be between illnesses that are below the surface and surface-level rashes.
In all matters of cleanness and uncleanness, the priest was the examiner and arbiter. The descriptions here are rather detailed and not easy reading. But they are quite specific in distinguishing among the various conditions of the skin.
Whenever I read these passages in Levticus I remember my Old Testament seminary professor who, in describing the priest and prophet Ezekiel, said, “He was weird. If you spent all day looking at people’s skin diseases you would be weird too!” I cannot imagine.
One of the lessons here is that leadership – consecration to a task by God – is not easy. Or fun. Or always joyful. When one adds the sacrificial duties to the skin-examining ones it becomes more than I can imagine doing or bearing.
It is, I think, why God calls us to these tasks. They are hard. They are unpleasant. Sometimes it means saying things to people we would rather not day. Sometimes it means sticking to a standard that we might otherwise fudge or abandon. And we are confronted by ugly, painful things. It is part of the responsibility.
Lest I sound like a martyr let me add that I think the same is true of all leadership properly accepted and done. Leaders in the church who are not ordained must still do things they might rather not do. And face issues they might rather not face!
I am cheating a bit by copying and pasting but this reflection brings to mind a scene in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. Frodo and Gandalf are talking about the One Ring and the burden it brings…
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
It was not for the priests to decide what they would or would not do. Nor is it ours if we take both leadership and discipleship seriously.
Holy God, help me today to take seriously the call to lead: to do what must be done and not what I want done; to face what comes my way and not turn away; to use the time and opportunity given me and not complain about what I would have rather done or been. In the name of Jesus, who did your will and faced his mission with love, humility, and grace. Amen.