First Reading: Leviticus 13:1-3, 44-46
1 YHWH spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 2 “When a man shall have a rising in his body’s skin, or a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes in the skin of his body the plague of leprosy, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest, or to one of his sons, the priests: 3 and the priest shall examine the plague in the skin of the body: and if the hair in the plague has turned white, and the appearance of the plague is deeper than the body’s skin, it is the plague of leprosy; and the priest shall examine him, and pronounce him unclean.
44 If a man is a leprous man, he is unclean. The priest shall surely pronounce him unclean. His plague is on his head.
45 “The leper in whom the plague is shall wear torn clothes, and the hair of his head shall hang loose. He shall cover his upper lip, and shall cry, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46 All the days in which the plague is in him he shall be unclean. He is unclean. He shall dwell alone. Outside of the camp shall be his dwelling.”
World English Bible
13:1-2 As you may have read in the gospel commentary, the disease translated as "leprosy" might not have been Hansen's disease (what we call "leprosy"). A close reading of Leviticus 13-14 revealed the sick were expected to recover (unlike the incurable, but treatable, Hansen's disease). Quarantine periods were temporary. A priest would inspect and impose the quarantine. Then he would re-inspect the sick at regular intervals to notice any improvement.
Notice the power of the priest in Leviticus. He acted not only as a worship leader, he was also a civil leader, judge, and medical practitioner. This all-encompassing role gave the priesthood of Aaron extraordinary powers.
13:44-46 The infected took on mannerisms that warned others of the disease. Torn clothing, a lack of proper hygiene, and the call "Unclean! Unclean!" meant to separate the community from those in quarantine. Not only did the infected live outside the community, they were expected to live as if they were in the wild. Appearance and warning gave the notion these lived outside civilization.
As Americans, we pride ourselves on our unique individuality. We have the right to act different. Imagine if different behavior was not a right, but a social pressure. To the contemporaries of Jesus, the ruling of leprosy by a priest was like a unjust prison sentence: isolated lifestyle by infection.
Have you ever been judged by appearance and condemned? Have you ever felt compelled by social pressure to act in a certain way? What happened? Were these times of despair or times of prayer?