Sign in or register to download original


Care for the leper
A Bit Like Jesus

A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 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.’ 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. (Mark 1.40–45)

The Samaritan made immediate and practical provisions to make sure that help really was given to the unfortunate victim on the road to Jericho. Such practical help is indeed part of care. Chad Varah was also well aware of that. Yet there is much more to good care.

Rather unusually, someone who was working as a care assistant came to study for a master’s degree. He had chosen to be a care assistant despite already being a graduate. Teaching him was a real privilege. From him I began to understand the difference between professional codes of practice (good governance) and care properly understood. He argued that if he stuck rigidly to the professional code for care assistants and did nothing beyond this, his work in reality would be less than caring. Little acts of kindness, friendship and compassion, that cannot readily be codified, would be absent. The vulnerable and dependent people in his care would receive scrupulously methodical attention but not the person-to-person care that actually makes their lives worth living. Care in this fuller sense requires care for and about the one who is vulnerable.

That is what Mark’s story of the ‘leper’ illustrates so well. Once more Jesus was ‘moved with pity’ (the Greek here in some texts is again that visceral word for ‘compassion’) and responded to the one who ‘came to him begging him, and kneeling’. Here was someone vulnerable and desperate. Yet Jesus’ actions went further. He acted with real passion and actually touched him despite his ‘leprosy’. Luke heightens the story. This was not just ‘a leper’ but ‘a man covered with leprosy’.

Except that it almost certainly was not ‘leprosy’ in the modern sense at all. True leprosy, or Hansen’s disease, has a number of identifying features: areas of skin that lose all feeling, painless and progressive ulceration of fingers or toes, and facial nodules. Not one of these features is mentioned anywhere in the Bible in connection with ‘leprosy’. In the extended depictions of ‘leprosy’ in Leviticus some quite different skin condition or conditions are noted instead:

The priest shall examine the disease on the skin of his body, and if the hair in the diseased area has turned white and the disease appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous disease . . .When a man or a woman has spots on the skin of the body, white spots, the priest shall make an examination, and if the spots on the skin of the body are of a dull white, it is a rash that has broken out on the skin; he is clean. If anyone loses the hair from his head, he is bald but he is clean. If he loses the hair from his forehead and temples, he has baldness of the forehead but he is clean. But if there is on the bald head or the bald forehead a reddish-white diseased spot, it is a leprous disease breaking out on his bald head or his bald forehead. The priest shall examine him; if the diseased swelling is reddish-white on his bald head or on his bald forehead, which resembles a leprous disease in the skin of the body, he is leprous, he is unclean. The priest shall pronounce him unclean; the disease is on his head. The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be dishevelled; 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. (Leviticus 13.3, 38–46)

I find it quite difficult to read this passage without scratching! Even though some of the skin conditions depicted here might have been relatively harmless, they were clearly much feared in the ancient world. Those affected were subject to strict social exclusion until they had been pronounced ‘clean’ by the priest. Even King Uzziah ‘being leprous lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the Lord’ (2 Chronicles 26.21). While ‘lepers’ had their condition they were regarded as deeply impure. They could make their family impure, their house impure, the whole community impure and (most disastrously of all) the Temple itself impure.

Yet Jesus touched the “leper”.


Psalm 121.8
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and for evermore.

Sura 11.75
The mercy of God and his blessings be upon you.

Taken from A Bit Like Jesus by Robin Gill

Publisher: SPCK - view more
Log in to create a review