January 30, 2022 is designated World Leprosy Day, a day that is recognized annually on the last Sunday of January. This international day is an opportunity “to recognize people who have experienced leprosy, raise awareness of the disease, and call for an end to leprosy-related stigma and discrimination.”

As you know, leprosy has been around for a long, long time.  You, of course, remember the biblical stories of Jesus healing the lepers.  Perhaps the most prominent story in the New Testament comes from the Gospel of Luke 17:11-19, where Jesus healed 10 lepers he met on his way to Jerusalem.

In the Bible, leprosy was often associated with the idea of “uncleanness,” and was associated with a person who was stricken with an eruptive skin disease.  Back in antiquity, when a person was pronounced “unclean,” which, by the way, was a function of a priest, that person was literally cut off from the community (including their families) and forced to live outside the confines of their towns and villages.  In addition, leprosy was often viewed as indicating that a person was a sinful person, and thus causing a deeper lack of compassion to prevail.  For Jesus, then, to have “touched” a leper in his day was actually a radical and gracious response to those sufferers.

Today, as I was reading the New York Times, there was an article in the paper about leprosy titled, “Leprosy Hospital Offers Healing, and a Haven, to the Shunned,” by Jeffrey Gettleman.  I found the article interesting.  Apparently, the stigma of leprosy continues today, even though leprosy is “a disease that’s curable, detectable, and stoppable,” especially when detected early.  Leprosy is still present in our world today and is still spreading.  Here are some things I learned from the article:

  • Today, leprosy is known as Hansen’s disease and is NOT very contagious.
  • People today are still stigmatized and judged by the disease.
  • Leprosy is caused by Mycobacterium leprae. The bacterium tends to linger in the body for a long time before a person becomes symptomatic.  The disease “strikes the nerves” and can lead to “paralysis in the hands and feet and even blindness.”
  • The World Health Organization is working diligently to eliminate the disease, and many countries don’t have any new cases.
  • Catching the disease early and then treating it is the difference between deformities or none. Again, it is a treatable and curable disease.

As a church that seeks to be focused on the value, dignity, and worth of all human beings, our prayers go out this week to those who suffer from leprosy and to those many persons and family members who compassionately care for lepers, including those who are involved in advocating for the treatment of leprosy and the eradication of the disease altogether.  May healing for those with leprosy come quickly!

Blessings on your week,

Bob Livingston