I’ve said before that repentance isn’t necessarily admitting that we’ve done something wrong. It might involve that at some point but the true essence of repentance is my understanding and acknowledging the reality of a sinful heart. It’s more like acknowledging that I’m indeed a sinner rather than confessing to any particular sin. It’s the difference between acknowledging boils and sores on my body and admitting that I’m a leper. That is why leprosy in the Bible is often an image for sin and sinfulness. Lepers were outcasts from society and would often be dressed in sack cloth and covered in ashes because that would help salve the itching.

John Barnett wrote a description of leprosy in an article I found on the internet at www.christianity.com. He says, “Leprosy was the scourge of the ancient world. Nothing evoked more fear, more dread, or more revulsion than the sight of these walking dead. That is what a leper was called, a walking dead man. The smell of his decaying flesh would announce his coming long before the tattered scraps of his clothing would be seen, or his raspy ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ announcement he was required to declare, could be heard. The stumbling shuffle of toeless feet, the wandering of sightless eyes and the moan of a cheek less mouth, all pointed to Leprosy, this unseen attacker that slowly destroyed human bodies, and made the individual an untouchable to society.”

There is no doubt in my mind that this is exactly what Jeremiah was referring to in Jeremiah 6:26. He cries out, “O daughter of my people, put on sackcloth, and roll in ashes; make mourning as for an only son, most bitter lamentation, for suddenly the destroyer will come upon us.” If they would only truly see themselves the way they actually were, there would be hope. Jeremiah, like all the prophets, called people to repent. That was the key message of Jesus to religious people as well. He wanted them to stop trusting rituals and regulations and admit that all the religion in the world couldn’t help them. Using the law that the religious leaders claimed to obey, Jesus redefined adultery as lusting in the heart. He redefined murder as hating or holding bitterness and animosity towards others. He wanted them to understand that the law was meant to help them see their sinful condition.  When the leper came to Jesus in Mark 1:40-45, acknowledging his condition, Jesus touched this untouchable and “Immediately the leprosy left him.” It’s the same for you and me today. Religion and the Law cannot make us clean! But Jesus can.