Jaime L. WatersJanuary 21, 2021
Photo by Olga Kononenko on Unsplash.

Today’s Gospel continues Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. The reading offers a model for empathy and care for the sick.

Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand [and] touched him. (Mk 1:41)

Liturgical day
Lv 13:1-46; Ps 32; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; Mk 1:40-45

What can you do to be a more compassionate person?

How do you treat people who are sick?

What in your life needs healing?

The first reading, from Leviticus, presents background information about Israelite perspectives on leprosy. The term refers to a variety of contagious and noncontagious skin conditions broadly called leprosy in biblical texts. Leviticus 13 includes a detailed discussion of how priests analyze symptoms and examine skin to determine remedies. As they were not physicians, the depiction of priestly involvement reveals a belief that divine healing and ritual acts of purification were required for certain ailments. 

The abbreviated account we hear in the first reading states that if the priests determine a disease to be leprous, the sick person should physically change his appearance to signal that he has the illness, wearing torn garments and disheveled hair. He should also vocally proclaim himself unclean and enter isolation. The rationale for these actions was likely preservation of the community’s health, assuming the disease was contagious even if it was not definitely known to be so. Likewise, wearing tattered garments and unkempt hair were practices associated with public mourning, so the leprous person might be revealing grief over the diagnosis. While the intent behind the acts was probably not to humiliate people, these practices were probably emotionally damaging to the afflicted. Jesus’ interaction with a leprous person in the Gospel offers a more compassionate approach to caring for the sick.

At the start of his ministry, Jesus cures people with various diseases. Jesus encounters a leper who humbly asks for a healing if Jesus is willing to offer one. The Lectionary reading, and most other translations, affirm that Jesus, moved with pity, stretched out his hand, touched the person and verbally declared the disease to be cleaned. Some ancient manuscripts say that Jesus was moved with anger, which is a difficult reading that might suggest Jesus was angry at the disease for afflicting the person. Following the Lectionary rendering, Jesus’ compassion and pity find support later in the Gospel when Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish because he felt compassion for the people who were hungry (Mk 6:34).

The manner in which Jesus interacts with this person is significant. As we heard last week, when Jesus healed the woman with fever, Jesus physically touches people who are sick. In today’s Gospel, this has greater significance since there were taboos regarding ritual purity and contact with someone afflicted with leprosy. Jesus breaks these norms to offer physical touch as an element of healing. Jesus does follow the expected norm of having the healed person show himself to the priest and make an offering at the temple in gratitude for the blessing.

Notably, Jesus warns the man not to proclaim that he has been healed, which is a departure from the practice outlined in Leviticus, which required a public declaration of uncleanness. Such a declaration could be considered unnecessary since the skin was apparently healed. It could also reflect Jesus’ hesitation about making his abilities known to the larger community at this point in his ministry. Jesus may be cautious, knowing that some would reject him, or he may want his power to be revealed at a deliberate pace, culminating with the resurrection. Despite Jesus’ warning, the healed person opts to share the news freely, making Jesus even more popular with “people coming to him from everywhere.”

The Gospel reminds us to treat all people, especially the sick, with dignity, care and respect. Shaming or humiliating the afflicted is never acceptable. Moreover, even if isolation is required to avoid the spread of disease, people should not be forgotten. Jesus’ openness and compassionate touch are excellent examples for everyone, especially medical professionals, of how to interact with people in need of healing.


We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

City and state/province, or if outside Canada or the U.S., city and country. 
When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

We are reminded not to be consumed with things that distract from the focus of the season of Advent.
Jaime L. WatersOctober 14, 2021
The feast of Christ the King is an opportunity to think about ways that we promote God’s kingdom in the world.
Jaime L. WatersOctober 14, 2021
The themes of power, timeliness and anticipation are prominent,
Jaime L. WatersOctober 14, 2021
The readings present two women as models of living charitably, selflessly showing kindness to others.
Jaime L. WatersOctober 14, 2021