Lepers, that politically incorrect term, have long served as a metaphor for showing mercy to society’s outcasts. Jesus commanded 10 lepers to show themselves to the priests and the Luke 17 narrative says they were healed. Healing a bunch of lepers was an outrageous act. Lepers were supposed to stay in isolation to prevent spreading their condition. Once declared unclean, it’s hard to shed that label. I can hear the question put to Jesus now: “How do we know these guys are healed?”
I am reminded of this story because of the current backlash against those parents who refuse to vaccinate their children or insist on controlling the vaccination schedule. In an article about pediatricians refusing to treat unvaccinated children, the number of doctors taking such a stance seems to be increasing.
A decreasing level of child vaccination coupled with an increase in pediatricians refusing to treat unvaccinated children implies we may be headed for a two-tier healthcare system. There might be one for the unvaccinated, and one for everyone else. But the bigger question is whether this is the tip of the iceberg if preventable disease outbreaks become deadlier and more frequent. What if daycare centers, church nurseries, babysitting services, church schools, youth soccer clubs, youth swim teams, etc. are forced to choose between unvaccinated children and vaccinated children?
Children share a lot, and germs are at the top of the list. Children are also highly attuned to status and can be outrageously cruel to those of “lower” status. To kids excluded from common sports and social events due to lack of vaccinations, the word “unclean” or something like it could re-enter the urban dictionary pretty quickly. Imagine the damage this can do. This is an uncomfortable thought, but not far-fetched. Once so labeled, it’s hard to shed it. Could these kids become a de facto leper colony?
It is a real challenge to show mercy and forgiveness, as Jesus did, under these circumstances. I think Jesus could say to these children GO TO YOUR DOCTOR AND GET VACCINATED, just as he told the lepers to go show themselves to the priests. and they would be healed. But Jesus also might caution the children’s parents as he did at the beginning of Luke 17, “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone though whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” As for the rest of us, forgiving these folks 7 x 7 might be the hardest burden to bear.
Finally, a brief word about how foreign, or new, this topic is. The WordPress spellchecker does not recognize the word “unvaccinated.” It’s a such a foreign concept, the dictionary hasn’t caught up. But with the unvaccinated increasing, maybe it’s time for a revision.
(Featured Image – Codex Aureus Cleansing of the Ten Lepers)