“Jesus Cleansing a Leper”
Jean-Marie Melchior Doze
At the age of fifteen, the young Melchior entered the Art School in Nîmes. He then perfected his style of painting with Jean-Hippolyte Flandrin, who had gone to Nîmes to decorate the newly-constructed Church of Saint Paul. While still very young, Melchior first exhibited his paintings in Nîmes where in 1849 he obtained a bronze medal.
The first work to make Melchior really known, when he was only twenty-five years of age, was ‘The Visitation’, which he first presented in Nîmes in 1852 and later exhibited in Paris at the Universal Exhibition of 1855. He devoted himself almost entirely to religious paintings.
Mark 1: 40-45
40“A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean’. 41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44 saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them’. 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country; and people came to him from every quarter”.
Leprosy in the Bible covered a range of skin diseases. More importantly, it was considered to make a person ritually unclean. The Law required that a leper stay away from others –a social and religious exclusion.
The scribes counted as many as seventy-two different afflictions
that were defined as leprosy, including such diseases as boils
As any other sickness at the time, leprosy had multiple dimensions: medical, religious, social and financial. The person afflicted by leprosy was destined to be an outcast who lived in isolated places and forbidden to meet others.
One of the characteristics of the Gospel of Mark is the deliberate lack of circumstantial detail which accompany many of the sayings and actions of Jesus. In this text we do not have any reference to location or to a time frame. We just know that Jesus had decided to leave Capernaum and preach throughout Galilee.
All of a sudden we see this man appearing.
The writer of the Gospel seems to be telling us: ‘It does not matter where or when this miracle took place. The only thing that does matter is what happens between Jesus and the sick man’.
Therefore, we would do well to pay attention to the centre of the story: the dialogue between Jesus and the leper.
If you choose to
Some scholars would argue that this way of asking for healing shows a lack of self-esteem on the part of the man who felt unworthy of the attention of Jesus. After all, we saw last week that Jesus did not heal every sick person who was brought to him at the door of Peter and Andrew’s house.
Others would say that by phrasing his request in this way, the leper is not only accepting his own situation but not wanting to force a demand on Jesus. Allowing Jesus the freedom to act according to His will is a great lesson we all need to learn in our spiritual lives.
Jesus was moved with compassion
What moved Jesus to compassion? Was it the dreadful affliction of leprosy? Was it the way the leper knelt in front of him? Was it the courage which the leper demonstrated by fearlessly approaching Jesus, disregarding what others might say to him?
The leper breaches the Law of Moses by approaching Jesus directly, and Jesus similarly breaches it by touching him.
Jesus touched him
In the previous section we saw that the Gospel of Mark does not give any detail of the way Jesus healed the crowd that came to him on the evening of the Sabbath.
Now, and in many other miracles after this, the Gospel does give details of how Jesus performs the miracle.
In this case, Jesus stretches out his hand and touches the leper.
Did Jesus really need to touch the leper for him to be healed? If He could heal the leper in another way, why did Jesus touch a person whom the Law forbids should be touched?
Jesus does not hesitate to break the Law when it does not uphold the dignity of a person.
He performs the miracle by word and action.
The immediacy of the healing points to the absolute power of Jesus over evil (every kind of evil): social, physical, moral or spiritual.
The Kingdom of God is already here and is active and efficacious: it changes the lives of those who welcome it.
He sends the man cured of leprosy away at once
We remain puzzled by this reaction of Jesus. He is at the beginning of his ministry and anyone in his place would have been delighted to have as many followers as possible. However, Jesus sends the healed leper away.
Jesus wants to remain detached from the lure of popularity. He does not want to be identified as an “exorcist” or as a successful performer of miracles. He came to bring the Good News and the actions He accomplishes are most important because they point to the presence of the Kingdom of God.
Show yourself to the priest
The leper had broken the Law by coming close to Jesus, and Jesus had broken the Law by touching him. However, having effected a cure, Jesus complies with the Law in sending the man to the priest. Jesus observes the Law when it is of help to people.
When the man presents himself to the priest, the priest will have to assess his physical condition. If he finds the man to be disease-free, the priest will have to bear public witness to that fact and participate in a cleansing ceremony to allow the man to re-enter society.
By sending the leper to the priest, Jesus allows him to reclaim his place in society. Jesus thereby formalized his re-instatement into the community.
Jesus stayed out in the countryside
At the beginning of our narrative, Jesus was moving freely around the towns and villages of Galilee and yet at the end we find him out in the countryside. Jesus takes the place of the leper, isolated and away from society. However, even this does not prevent people from going to him.
The Good News of Jesus reaches the most unexpected places, the places where lepers and the outcasts inhabited.
Jesus came in order to break the boundaries that separate people from one another.
“I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble,
and you fill me with the joy of salvation.
Blessed is he whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered. Blessed the one to whom the LORD imputes not
guilt, in whose spirit there is no guile.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you, my guilt I covered not.
I said, ‘I confess my faults to the LORD’, and you
took away the guilt of my sin.
Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you just;
exult, all you upright of heart”.
Dear Lord, we thank You for this day and for all your many blessings. We thank You that even when life is difficult, You are good to us. Lord, we ask You to be with all our family and friends. Please meet their needs and draw them ever closer to You.
Thank You for knowing our needs before we even ask.
Thank You for your promise to provide for our needs.
We thank You for all the work you are doing in and through us, and for all You will continue to do. Please watch over us as we wake and as we sleep. May we find our rest from our trials and tribulations in You.
With thankful hearts we ask these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.
If we imagine for a moment that we are the leper in the Gospel, we will immediately see our need to be healed, restored and forgiven.
If, on the other hand, we take the place of the bystanders, we can see the invitation of God to stand out against any kind of discrimination that undermines the dignity of every human person.
The man afflicted by leprosy shows great faith in allowing Jesus the freedom to decide whether to heal him or not. We learn from this man the way to surrender our own wills to the will of God.
We can ask ourselves whether we have contributed to the unnecessary barriers that invariably exist in our community, family and places of work. We learn from Jesus the need to build bridges. As Jesus restored the leper to the respect that was his due, we are called to help restore the good name and reputation of any person who is deprived of her dignity.
The man afflicted by leprosy disobeys Jesus when he openly talks to others about Jesus and his healing. But Jesus does not condemn him for doing so. Jesus simply bears with the unwelcome consequences and moves out to the countryside. The encounter with Jesus and his experience of liberation were too great for the leper to keep to himself. He spontaneously became a herald of the Good News of the Kingdom.
 Leviticus 13: 45-46: “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.”  The leper was supposed to maintain a distance of fifty-paces, however Jesus reaches out and touches him.  A person was forbidden from touching a hemorrhaging woman (Mark 5: 25-27), a corpse (Mark 5: 41), Gentiles and a person afflicted by unclean spirits (Mark 7: 24-26).  Leviticus 13: 53-55: “If the priest makes an examination, and the disease has not spread in the clothing, in warp or woof or in anything of skin, the priest shall command them to wash the article in which the disease appears, and he shall put it aside seven days more. The priest shall examine the diseased article after it has been washed. If the diseased spot has not changed color, though the disease has not spread, it is unclean; you shall burn it in fire, whether the leprous spot is on the inside or on the outside”.