Christ Healing a Leper,
Painted by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669),
Reed pen, brown ink, and wash with white gouache on paper,
Drawn circa 1650
© Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Christ Healing a Leper,
Painted by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669),
Reed pen, brown ink, and wash with white gouache on paper,
Drawn circa 1650
© Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Gospel of 16 January 2020

Feeling sorry for him, Jesus touched him

Mark 1:40-45

A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: ‘If you want to’ he said ‘you can cure me.’ Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. ‘Of course I want to!’ he said. ‘Be cured!’ And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured. Jesus immediately sent him away and sternly ordered him, ‘Mind you say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing prescribed by Moses as evidence of your recovery.’ The man went away, but then started talking about it freely and telling the story everywhere, so that Jesus could no longer go openly into any town, but had to stay outside in places where nobody lived. Even so, people from all around would come to him.

Reflection on the Drawing on Paper

One of the first few words we notice when reading today’s Gospel is that ‘Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him’. Yes, Jesus was filled with compassion. Jesus wasn’t just healing people out of a sense of obligation or to show that by healing people would listen to what he had to say… No, he wasn’t all calculating about His ministry. Jesus had genuine compassion for people. He cared for people and their needs. When the leper approached Him, he was genuinely moved and upset at the situation. Jesus didn’t hesitate for one second to heal. He says ‘of course I want to heal you’, upon which he touched the man.

But Jesus didn’t just touch any man, no, he touched a leper. He touched someone severely ill and contagious. The onlookers must have watched with horror as Jesus was reaching out His hand. By doing so, Jesus entered the physical pain and symptoms of the illness of the leper. Jesus exposed himself to the disease. But none of that mattered to Jesus because he had compassion on this man. Again compassion overrides everything and any concerns He would have had. Probably the leper hadn’t been touched for years, so also the hug, the touch of Jesus would have been of as much importance to the leper as the healing itself.

Christ touches us… but we can also touch Christ… In the words of Pope Francis: ‘We touch the flesh of Christ in those who are outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge’. Our beautiful, simple drawing by Rembrandt, reflects the beauty and simplicity of such a gesture...

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