Back in the days of the Old Testament, at least among the Israelites, anyone with leprosy, probably a generic term for skin diseases, was responsible not only for staying outside the camp, but also shouting “unclean” when nice people – those without a skin disease- might approach. We might put people in an isolation room today if they have an infectious, contagious disease, but the hospital also provides gowns and masks so that people can approach.
That’s not the case in many parts of Asia today; there’s a Hindu caste system in effect for over 3,000 years which keeps people in bondage. Hundreds of millions of people, the Dalits, are still considered the untouchables: they are despised, viewed as sub-human and treated like dirt. In many places they are still given the lowliest of jobs, and excluded from ‘polite society’. Education is usually not an option, and they live in slums, vast tenements with others of the same caste. Granted since the time of the British Raj, the system is starting to change – slowly, but still it’s changing. But for millions and millions of people it’s too late. Yes their children may someday have opportunities, but many of the older people will never learn to read, will never leave their tenement housing, will never be able to change from something they’ve always known to something which has always been off limits.
In Jesus’ time the caste system was already being practiced, and Jesus was already teaching that even the lowest of the low deserved justice. Ten men with leprosy asked for mercy and he healed them (Luke 17:12-14). Another man with leprosy said “if you are willing, you can make me clean” Jesus touched him, and the healed him (Matt 8:1-4), Jesus sat and talked with the Samaritan woman (John 4), and he healed the daughter of the Canaanite (Syrio – Phoenician) woman (Matt 15: 21-28 or Mark 7:24-30).
The apostle James (2:2-4) would later write that the Christian community shouldn’t show favoritism. ‘Judges with evil intent’ is how he describes those who would offer the rich man the best seat in the house, and then suggesting that a poor man could sit on the floor.
Today people from Gospel for Asia are starting to minister to the Dalits. They’re teaching adults to read and in doing so give their children an education and a future. They touch the ‘untouchables’ with the love of Christ. They establish relationships and fellowship with ‘the least of these’ (read another passage from Matthew: the parable of the sheep and the goats, Matt 25: 31-45 to put that in context). And best of all they share the message of God's salvation and redemption with a people who have always been told that nobody wants of loves them!
Today the untouchables, the Dalits, are learning what it means to be loved.