MATTHEW 8:1-4 When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
“Unclean! Unclean!”- this is how a leper would announce his presence in ancient times. Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, carried a stigma; it was perceived as a highly communicable disease. Leprosy patients were labelled as outcasts or untouchables. In the 1940s, at least seven million people were affected by leprosy in India. They were neglected by their family and society, and little was done to study about this grievous disease, let alone treat it.
When Dr. Paul Brand came to Vellore to teach at the Christian Medical College in 1946, he was gripped by the horror faced by the leprosy patients. They were mostly untreated and socially outcast. He had compassion on them. Once when he gave a friendly nudge to a patient, tears of joy rolled down his face because no one had touched him in years.
Paul Brand was trained as a hand surgeon and developed a special interest in leprosy. Even as a child, he had seen many tribal people in India whose stubs of fingers and toes were lost to leprosy. Paul soon realized that no one had ever really studied the deformities of leprosy and so he set out to study the disease and explored new ways to treat it.
The Brands stayed in India for nineteen years, dedicating themselves for the cause of providing healing to the sufferers and changing lives with the touch of their hands. Dr. Brand worked as a surgeon and teacher at CMC, also founding a leprosy hospital known as Karigiri. He operated thousands of patients with love and compassion and helped restore their God given dignity. Paul Brand wrote -
"After 40 years as a surgeon specializing in hands, I know that nothing in all nature rivals the hand's combination of strength and agility, tolerance and sensitivity.
We use our hands for the most wonderful activities: art, music, writing, healing, touching. Some people go to concerts and athletic events to watch the performance; I go to watch hands. For me, a piano performance is a ballet of fingers—a glorious flourish of ligaments and joints, tendons, nerves, and muscles.
I try to sit near the stage to watch the movements.
I work with the marvels of the hand nearly every day. But one time of year holds special meaning for me as a Christian; then, too, my thoughts turn to the human hand. When the world observes Passion Week, the most solemn week of Christendom, I reflect on the hands of Jesus.
Just as painters throughout history have attempted to visualize the face of Jesus Christ, I try to visualize his hands. I imagine them through the various stages of his life. When God's Son entered the world in the form of a human body, what were his hands like?
Since I once apprenticed as a carpenter, I can easily imagine the adolescent hands of Jesus, who learned the trade in his father's shop. His skin must have developed many calluses and tender spots.
And then came the hands of Christ the physician. The Bible tells us strength flowed from them when he healed people. He preferred to perform miracles not en masse, but rather one by one, touching each person he healed.
When Jesus touched eyes that had dried out, they suddenly admitted light and colour again. Once, he touched a woman who suffered with a haemorrhage, knowing that by Jewish law she would make him unclean. He touched those with leprosy—people no one else would touch. In small and personal ways, his hands set right what had been disrupted in Creation.
The most important scene in Jesus' life—the one we memorialize during Passion Week—also involved his hands. Then those hands that had done so much good were taken, one at a time, and pierced through with a thick spike. My mind balks at visualizing it.In surgery I cut delicately, using scalpel blades that slice through one layer of tissue at a time, to expose the intricacies of nerves and blood vessels and tiny bones and tendons and muscles inside. I know well what crucifixion must have done to a human hand.
But that is not the last glimpse in the New Testament of Jesus' hands. He appeared again, in a closed room, just as one of his disciples was disputing the unlikely story he thought his friends had concocted. People do not rise from the dead, Thomas scoffed. They must have seen a ghost, or an illusion. At that moment, Jesus appeared and held up those unmistakable hands. The scars gave proof that they belonged to him, the same one who had died on the cross. Although the body had changed in certain ways, the scars remained. Jesus invited Thomas to come and trace them with his own fingers.
For a reminder of his time here, Jesus chose scars in each hand. That is why I believe God hears and understands our pain, and even absorbs it into himself—because he kept those scars as a lasting image of wounded humanity. He knows what life on earth is like, because he has been here. His hands prove it."
Even after they moved back to their homeland, Dr. Brand taught and worked until his retirement in 1986. He served as the President of The Leprosy Mission International from 1993 to 1999. He remained an advocate for the cause of leprosy and was successful in changing the outlook towards those suffering from the disease.
Dr. Brand merely followed the footsteps of his master, Jesus, who reached out and touched the lepers and healed them. There are millions* of untouchables and outcasts in the world around us. Will we be the hands of Jesus? Will we reach out - to touch, to care, to heal?
170 million to this day in India alone are treated as "Outcaste", "Dalits".
Quite a few are lepers, or have been leprosy sufferers.
Some of us from St John's Alresford were privileged to visit Karigiri Hospital where Dr Paul Brand had served and healed thousands of leprosy sufferers; and where there is a small village attached to house those who would otherwise have been destitute. Below are some photos of Karigiri and Shanthigramam
Today, millions of people are affected by leprosy, including those yet to be diagnosed and people cured but permanently disabled.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 200,000 new cases of leprosy diagnosed globally each year - 208,619 in 2019.
Someone is diagnosed with leprosy every two minutes.
58 per cent of new cases of leprosy diagnosed in 2018 were found in India.
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” Matthew 25:40
A PRAYER FOR THOSE MILLIONS WORLDWIDE WHO SUFFER FROM LEPROSY
Almighty Father, the giver of life and health,
look mercifully on those who suffer from leprosy.
Stretch out your hand to touch and heal them
as Jesus did during his earthly life.
Grant wisdom and insight to those
who are seeking the prevention and cure of the disease;
Give skill and sympathy to those who minister to the patients;
Reunite the separated with their families and friends;
And inspire your people with the healing task set before them
to carry on this healing work,
in accordance with your will,
and to the glory of your holy name.
We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ
your Son, our Lord. Amen.
PRAYER IN THIS PANDEMIC
God of all mercy and compassion, life and death are in your hands.
Hear our prayers in this time of illness and infection, of isolation, fear, and uncertainty: for the sick, and those weighed down by pain, distress, loneliness, and anxiety; for all who care for them, conscious of the risks they bear; and for those who have responsibility for public health and social order.
Hear the cry of the afflicted and let them be comforted, so that all who suffer may come to know that they are joined to the sufferings of Christ, who gave his life for the salvation of the world; and by your blessing on them and those who care for them, may they be restored, according to your will, to soundness of body and mind, and offer you joyful thanks in your Church.
Through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.