Christ Healing the Leper, from The Story of Christ,
Engraving by Georg Pencz (1500–1550),
Engraving on paper
© The Metropolitan Museum, New York
Feeling sorry for him, Jesus touched the leper and cured him
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 Engraving
One of the first sentences we notice when reading today’s Gospel is that ‘Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him’. Jesus was filled with compassion. He wasn’t just healing people out of a sense of obligation or so that they would listen to what he had to say. Jesus had genuine compassion for people. 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’ and then touched the man.
But this wasn't just any man: Jesus touched a leper. He touched someone severely ill and contagious. The onlookers must have watched with horror as Jesus reached 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. Probably the leper hadn’t been touched for years, so the touch of Jesus would have been of as much importance to him 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’.
In our German engraving from 1535, we see the leper living outside the walls of the city that is depicted on the left. He was an outcast, not part of society. We see the moment when Jesus touches and heals him. The two hands of Jesus and of the leper are beautifully interacting, with the right hand of the leper being the very centre of the engraving, illustrating how he reached out to Jesus in gratitude.
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Readings related to Mark 1:40-45
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