Outcast and isolated

Phil Nicholson, a Preaching regional coordinator in East Asia, brings a word of encouragement from his experience of exclusion and isolation.

“At the end of March, my wife, Irene, and I returned from a visit to our home in Australia to our home in Taiwan. Like all new arrivals, we were immediately put into 14 days of quarantine due to COVID-19. This was only a minor inconvenience compared with what many faced. But what struck me was how others treated us and how it made me feel. 

Upon arrival in Taiwan we were immediately considered “unclean”. We were sprayed with disinfectant and escorted by special transport to our quarantine. For the next two weeks we were not allowed to leave the front door of the house, under the threat of a fine up to USD30,000! We had visits from the local police to check that we had not broken quarantine and as soon as I opened the door, they would step back in fear of being too close. A colleague brought us food but left it on the door step and did not want to take payment for fear of touching our cash.

Although we were not sick, we had become temporary outcasts from normal life. Outside we could see others going about their daily life, but we were not a part of it. Because of how we were treated, I actually started to feel unclean and a threat to the health of others. We felt like “lepers”. 

This experience made me reflect on the laws of uncleanness in the Old Testament. Through no personal guilt, many people were excluded from the joys of community life simply because of who they were, or because of sickness. This was not just a physical inconvenience, but carried a psychological and spiritual burden of exclusion and rejection and unworthiness.

Included and loved

That is why the prophets often speak a message of healing and the hope it brings. As Jeremiah prays, “Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14, NIV) Healing is not just a restoration of physical health, but represents wholeness and holiness, acceptance by the Lord, and inclusion into his people.

And Jesus fulfils this hope as he boldly and compassionately touches the unclean and makes them clean. “While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.” (Luke 5:12-13, NIV)

Those touched know they are accepted and included again.

It is not just skin diseases, or COVID-19, that can make us feel this way. We can feel “unclean” as a result of our own actions, or often simply because others treat us this way. We sense their disdain, their rejection, their fear and we feel that somehow we deserve this. But the hope of the gospel is that Jesus reaches out, and (without any personal protective equipment, or PPE) touches us, announcing we are whole, we are included, we are loved.”