Today's Gospel in Art - And his leprosy was cured at once

  • Patrick van der Vorst

Leprosy, From the Atlas of Skin Diseases, by Prince Albert Morrow (1846-1913) © US National Library of Medicine

Leprosy, From the Atlas of Skin Diseases, by Prince Albert Morrow (1846-1913) © US National Library of Medicine

Gospel of 26th June 2020 - Matthew 8:1-4

After Jesus had come down from the mountain large crowds followed him. A leper now came up and bowed low in front of him. 'Sir,' he said 'if you want to, you can cure me.' Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him and said, 'Of course I want to! Be cured!' And his leprosy was cured at once. Then Jesus said to him, 'Mind you do not tell anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest and make the offering prescribed by Moses, as evidence for them.'

Reflection on the historical medical illustration

When we read the Gospels, there is a danger of over-familiarity with the events that are described. It is the same with the healing of the leper, we think we know the story already when we start reading the Gospel passage. Art can help draw us right back into the 'reality' of the events. The medical print illustrated above, published in 1889, shows the severity of leprosy and what effect it had on people. It makes the leprosy of today's reading very real and tangible.

Whilst art is often about beauty and illustrating stories, throughout history, people have also turned to art to express emotions about diseases. Illustrating the hardships, diseases and sadness of life is as much part of art history as creating art for the beauty and glory of God. The paintings and prints such as the one we are looking at today, cover the period before the age of colour photography, and therefore also give medics a good idea of health issues in bygone eras. Our print today was rendered as realistically and pathologically accurately as possible, with a view to instructing physicians.

In Jesus' time, the leper was despised and shunned. In our reading today he becomes the object of divine attention. The leper who was a nobody in the eyes of society, became someone again… After his healing he could join Jewish society again… In prayer, we can be that leper and allow ourselves to be healed as well…


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Tags: Christian Art Today, Patrick van der Vorst, Leprosy, Prince Albert Morrow

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