Year B – 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Year B - 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus’ Hands

(Lev.13:1-2, 44-46; 1Cor.10:31-11:1; Mk.1:40-45)

Leprosy was a big issue in ancient times; that’s why the Bible mentions it 68 times.

In those days, leprosy meant more than what we now call ‘Hansen’s Disease.’ It included many infectious skin disorders, and even mould and mildew on clothes. [i]

It was devastating to be caught with this condition, because under Jewish law all lepers were banished from their family and community – for life.

In today’s Gospel, a leper sees Jesus and says, ‘If you want to, you can cure me.’ His faith must have been strong because he risks being stoned for breaking the law.

‘Of course I want to!’ Jesus replies, and then He breaks the law Himself by reaching out to touch him. ‘Be cured’ Jesus says, and he is.

This simple act of touching and healing totally transforms this man’s life. He’s so excited that he tells everyone.  

But why does Jesus actually touch him? It’s because he needs more than a physical cure. He needs spiritual healing, too.

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Our hands, and our sense of touch, play a critical role in our lives. Scientists tell us that touch is the first sense we develop in the womb, and that social touching is critical to every child’s development. They also say that our fingers are more sensitive than our eyes, and that touching often communicates emotions more effectively than voice or facial expressions. [ii]

In his book, Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind, David Linden says that the experience of touch is intrinsically emotional, and this is reflected in such expressions as, ‘I’m touched by your concern’ and ‘I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.’ We also call emotionally clumsy people ‘tactless,’ because they lack touch. [iii]

Touching, therefore, is powerful. It can say far more than mere words, and that’s why Jesus chooses to touch this man.

Now, Jesus has remarkable hands. As an artisan, His hands are strong and precise, but they’re also calloused and weather-beaten. They are powerful, because they give life to the dead (Lk.7:11-15). They are gentle, for they wash His disciples’ feet (Jn.13:1-17). And they are cruelly tortured, when He is nailed to the Cross.

Jesus often uses His hands to heal people, including Peter’s mother-in-law (Mk.1:30-31), a 12-year-old girl (Mt.9:25), a blind man (Mk.8:22-26) and a deaf person (Mk.7:31-37), among others.

And some people find themselves healed when they touch Jesus (Lk.6:18-19), like the woman who touches His prayer shawl. ‘Who touched me?’ Jesus asks, as He feels the energy drain from Him (Lk.8:43-48). He clearly understands what hands can do.

There’s a powerful touch in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son, too. When the wayward son returns home, the father is so filled with compassion that he runs to his son, hugs him closely and kisses him (Lk.15:20).

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Pope Francis did something similar in Italy, in 2013, when he embraced and kissed a severely disfigured man. That man was Vinicio Riva, who suffered from a genetic disease called neurofibromatosis. Many were shocked, but Vinicio was so moved by being touched by the Pope that he described it as ‘paradise.’ He said it felt like his heart was leaving his body.

Vinicio wasn’t cured, but he was healed, for his life was utterly transformed. [iv]

St Teresa of Calcutta also used her gentle touch to transform the lives of others. Every day she channelled Jesus’ love through her hands when she cared for the poor and sick in the streets of Calcutta.

St Catherine of Siena did the same in the 14th Century. One of her patients was an unhappy woman with leprosy who abused her constantly. But by gently caring for her with her hands, St Catherine won her over and the woman died in her arms. [v]

Today, Jesus has no hands but ours, and He wants us to use them to transform the lives of others.

Many people today are reluctant to touch others because of risks associated with the pandemic and the abuse crisis. However, let’s not forget that the Gospels refer to ‘hands,’ ‘touch’ and ‘fingers’ almost 200 times, and healthy touching is important for our personal wellbeing.

It also remains a powerful way to express love and demonstrate our wholesome connection with others.

There are many healthy ways we can use our hands: like offering someone a warm handshake, giving them a hug or a pat on the back, writing them a letter, giving them a gift, or offering a helping hand.

What can you do to touch someone’s life in a meaningful way?

[i] Gillen, Alan L. The Genesis of Germs. Master Books, Forest Green, AR. 2007:143 


[iii] Linden, David J. Touch: The Science of Hand, Heart and Mind. Penguin Books, New York. 2016:3.