Touching The Untouchable


‘A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: ‘See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’ Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.’ Mark 1:40-45

We need to read this story with our imagination fully engaged. Leprosy was one of the dreaded diseases in the ancient world. It manifested itself in several ways, such as scabs and sores, and the more serious cases disfigured a person. Lepers can do themselves great harm and not know it because the nerves in the hands and feet are dead.

What would life be like for someone with leprosy?

How would people react to anyone with leprosy?

There were unfounded fears that leprosy was contagious, so lepers were pushed to the margins of society. In our own time, we have seen the fear people had of touching a person with Aids.

In Israel there were religious and social consequences to leprosy, lepers could not enter the temple and be socially alienated. They were reminded of their alienation on a daily basis. They were not allowed to forget that they were lepers.

Why does the leper beg Jesus on his knees?

The leper is seen as an imploring figure, begging for help, a picture of utter hopelessness. He is in great need but he knows who can heal him.

What is Jesus’ immediate response to the leper?

Jesus’ response is far more than a momentary pang of conscience, a tug at the heartstrings that lasts a few moments and is then forgotten. Compassion speaks of sympathy that desires to remove the cause of the suffering. This provides us with an insight into the heart of God. He is a compassionate God.

Jesus reaches out and touches him. Touching is an effective way of communicating. Jesus didn’t have to do this, a spoken word would have sufficed, but so much is said by a touch. Jesus was coming into contact with the untouchable, he was entering into his world.

How long might it have been since the leper had received a compassionate touch from a healthy person?

Jesus’ touching the leper tells us something about the ministry of Jesus, alienation is being removed and reinstatement is taking place.

How would we have reacted to the leper?

When the leper asks Jesus if He is willing, what is Jesus’ response?

Jesus doesn’t rebuke him for the uncertainty in his words. Jesus didn’t say, ‘what do you mean, if? What kind of faith is that?’ Compassion doesn’t respond in that way.

By asking Jesus to heal him, what does this tell us about the leper’s faith in Christ?

How long did the leper have to wait to feel the effects of his healing?

The healing is instant, there’s no need for a medical examination. No need to place him on a period of probation just to make sure that the leprosy has really gone. Jesus made no deal with the leper, no money changed hands, and no performance was given, only love from the compassionate Christ.

Now that the leper has been healed, what do you think would be the first thing he did?

How would his life as a whole now be changed?

What kinds of things can he do now, that he could do before?

How would the leper’s life be changed?


We are all infected with an incurable disease, sin. The consequence of sin is alienation from God. Jesus is the only one who can make us clean. By touching the leper Jesus became ceremonially unclean, he did this so the leper could be clean. Jesus, the sinless one, became sin for us so that we could be counted as sinless.

Though Jesus said to the leper, ‘Don’t tell anyone,’ Mark’s Gospel ends with the command of Jesus to tell the world about Him.

‘He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.’ Mark 16:15-16


"One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.’"