The Healing Touch

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Ordinary Time 6
February 14, 2021
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: Jesus touched a man with leprosy and healed him, and then instructed him to say nothing to anyone about who had healed him. But the man proclaimed it to everyone he saw. This man who could previously go nowhere now moved about freely; Jesus, who had been going anywhere he wanted, could now no longer go into town openly. Jesus paid a price to heal, and he paid a greater price when he went to the cross for us all.

What's the first thing you're going to do when the "all clear" signal is sounded after the pandemic? Travel? Take the postponed vacation? Take a walk along a crowded city sidewalk? Invite friends over to your house for dinner? Answers to this question, of course, are myriad. But I suspect one action will be involved in much of whatever it is you're going to do first.

That one thing? Touch - hugging, handshaking, arm around the shoulder, kissing, forgetting about the "stay six-feet apart" rule. We need that touch!

An article at asks the question, "What does it mean to be touch starved?" The article begins, "Humans are wired to be touched. From birth until the day we die, our need for physical contact remains. Being touched starved - also known as skin hunger or touch deprivation - occurs when a person experiences little to no touch from other living things."1 And that was written well before the worldwide health crisis.

Imagine being ostracized by the whole community. Imagine people being afraid to be around you, let alone touch you. Imagine feeling like even God has turned his back on you. Leprosy brought that kind of response. Leviticus contains these words of instruction, "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."2

Our scripture today introduces us to an unnamed man who had been "touch starved" or "skin hungry" for a long, long time.

Be made clean

Jesus' fame was spreading. He healed Peter's mother-in-law. And the word spread. "That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick ... and cast out many demons."3

Just prior to today's scripture reading, Jesus told his disciples, "Let us go to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do."4 So they went throughout Galilee and Jesus preached in many of the synagogues and cast out demons. Jesus was doing what he came to do!

Then he was interrupted by a man we know almost nothing about. We can safely assume he was a Galilean, but we don't even know his name. We know him by the biggest need and the biggest problem in his life. We know him only as "a leper." He was a leper who had enough faith, or tenacity, or a "I've got nowhere else to turn" mentality, and he came to Jesus begging him and kneeling before him, and said, "If you choose, you can make me clean."

Moved with pity, Jesus touched the man and said, "I do choose. Be made clean!"

Now there is considerable debate among scholars about the word that is here translated "pity." In most modern translations it says that Jesus was "moved by compassion" or "moved with pity." However, some manuscripts refer to Jesus as being filled with anger. If "anger" then it is most likely anger directed at a world where leprosy exists.

"Immediately the leprosy left the man, and he was made clean." Can you imagine the relief and joy the man felt at that moment? We don't know how long this man had had leprosy, but to have it at all, in that time and place especially, was almost like a death sentence. Certainly, death to the life he had been living and enjoying up to that time. And now he was healed and made clean.

Theologian Jürgen Moltmann said, "Together with the proclamation of the gospel, the healing of the sick is Jesus' most important testimony to the dawning of the kingdom of God."5 For this man, the dawning of the kingdom of God became a reality that day.

With Jesus' words of stern warning to say "nothing to anyone" still echoing in his ears, 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."


If we weren't living during (or if we hadn't just gone through) a pandemic, one point of this healing account in Mark might not have jumped out like it does now. "Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him ...." But touch is precious because of its absence this last year. We know, of course, that Jesus did not need to touch this man to heal him. The gospels tell us that Jesus could heal from a distance - like he did with the royal official's son,6 that Jesus could heal without touch - like he did with blind Bartimaeus,7 and Jesus could even bring someone back from the dead - like he did with Lazarus.8

But in this instance Jesus did touch the man with leprosy, perhaps because it was forbidden, or perhaps because the man needed to feel the touch of another person. Or perhaps, Jesus touched him to affirm that his was a life worth healing and saving. Jesus touched him because he was worth touching and saving.

The person who did this kind of thing regularly and who comes to mind for many of us, is Mother Teresa. In The Indian Express there was an article about her life and ministry with people who had leprosy in India. After giving many examples of how she interacted with lepers and how she helped to start multiple clinics throughout India, the article ended with this: "And so, Mother Teresa and her Sisters began to change the way missionaries worked. They showed the whole world that all people, whether they had a disease, whether they were untouchable, old, or poor, were their own people."9


There are several accounts of healing throughout all four gospels. Mark, the shortest of the gospels, contains 13 healing accounts by Jesus. One of the recurring problems related to healing is that, in light of the healing miracles Jesus did, we often fall into the idea that God always wills healing. When healing does not happen (or healing doesn't happen in the way or time period we want) we ask questions - questions like, "Why did God choose not to heal this time?" or "Did I not have enough faith for healing to happen?" or "What sin prevented God from healing this person?" We will always have questions, but Jesus and scripture both tell us to ask for healing, so, in faith, we continue to pray.

Loved by God

The man with leprosy was considered unclean and untouchable. Anyone who touched him would have to go through a ritual of cleansing and show evidence of that to the priests. The remarkable thing in this account is that when Jesus touched him, the opposite happened. The man was healed and made clean. And this is a reality which gives us hope.

Most of us have things in our lives - either things we have done or left undone, or thoughts we have covered up, or anger, or unforgiveness or things done in secret that we never want to see the light of day - which we would consider sufficient to make us untouchable. Scripture calls it sin. We may call it something else, but when we are honest with ourselves and God, we admit our "untouchable" condition.

Except, God doesn't agree with our diagnoses! Jesus came to earth to give his life on the cross specifically because, apart from him, we are untouchable. But we have a savior! So, what we consider unclean and broken, Jesus can cleanse and make whole!

A great gift at a great cost

When Jesus healed the leper in our scripture today a remarkable thing happened. Jesus gave the man stern instructions to tell no one anything about who had healed him, instructions that the man promptly disregarded. He told his good news to anyone who would listen. As we look at this account, the man with leprosy, who was restricted in where he could go, now went wherever he wished. And Jesus, who had been able to move freely about, now could no longer go into a town openly. In this sense, Jesus and the man who was healed traded places. And a few short years later, Jesus would willingly trade places with all humankind, as he went to the cross to bring healing and salvation for all of us. A great gift for all at a great cost for him.

We have so much to be thankful for, not the least of which is the healing touch of Jesus on us all. Thanks be to God!