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Monday, February 16, 2009

What to do after healing a leper.

Okay, so yesterday I was giving the kids in Sunday School a lesson about Jesus healing the leper in Mark 1:40-45. I took sort of the easy way out and pivoted on the modern metaphorical use of leper, making the lesson about accepting those who others will not accept. We talked about cooties, and being nice to the weird kid in class. Which is fine, but I'm not sure it is the point of gospel writer's story.

Anyway, here is something that Jesus said to the leper that really struck me, "But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them."

I had the kids look up the cross reference and, sure enough, in Leviticus 14:1-32 there is offering to be given when you have someone cured of leprosy. If you follow the link you will notice that there is even a provision for indigent Hebrews if they cannot afford the standard sacrifice.

So, healing lepers (whatever that means) happened often enough that this guy could have gone to the priests and said, "Hey, uh, I've been cured of my leprosy, so, do I sacrifice like a dove, or what?" And they would be able to help him out. This is what keeps bugging me about the healing stories in Mark--the fact of the healing is not particularly miraculous. Jesus is an awesome healer, and that's a big deal, but the systems seems set up to accept the fact of healing already.

My question for those who believe Jesus these healings were very much like modern faith healings, but evidently effective, why are there no more legitimate faith healers? When did that stop?

My question for those who don't believe that Jesus could set his hand on people and make germs and viruses flee the body, what do you think was going on? Was it all a put on? Do you think there was something going on that was lost in translation?

7 comments:

Lin said...

Quite a few people believe in faith healing today - some in a dramatic sense as seen on TV, and some would talk of it in terms of answered prayer (meaning that someone recovered from an illness as a result of corporate or individual prayer).

And then there are some (I probably would be in this group) that believe that the change prayer brings is a kind of spiritual healing, so that the physical recovery or lack of it is secondary. In this pericope from Mark, Jesus seems to be trying to draw attention away from himself. He minimized sensationalism. Maybe because he didn't want to make too much of a stir -- but I'm hearing something else this year as we study Mark. I'm hearing Jesus repeatedly trying to direct attention to a couple of other very important things: spiritual wholeness that goes beyond physical healing and may be more important, and giving credit to God (go and express your gratitude to God like Moses taught us to do).

In terms of recovery today, the lesson still applies: there are amazing advances in medicine that can reverse disease, and while we may get all excited about our doctor and tell all our friends that they should try this new medicine, Jesus is saying we should remember the source of healing and wholeness, and throw our energies into praising God.

JimII said...

My question is a much more mundane one, though. There are gospel stories that feel to me like pure metaphor. Example, the nativities. There are completely different in Luke and Matthew, and absent from John & Mark. They have dramatic and peculiar events that no one else recorded and about which Jesus never spoke. There are internal contradictions, like Mary forgetting about the whole bit with the angels. Etc.

But the healing stories don't feel like that to me. I just wonder what happened. Why record over and over again about him doing two things (1) healing (2) casting out demons?

Do you think these are metaphors for the spiritual healing you refer to in your comment?

Lin said...

Yes.

And I don't mean that in a simplistic way. It is profound. Physical healing is ordinary in the Jesus story -- so is exorcism, actually. It seems there were many healers that could do these things. But Jesus pointed to something beyond -- and these ordinary forms of healing do become metaphor for what God can do physically and spiritually.

Mind you, this is just how I'm hearing Mark this year. We so very much want overt forms of gratification: reversal of the financial crisis in the form of resurgent property values; my sick friend to recover from cancer (not remission -- recovery), etc.

Honest to God, I hear Jesus saying, "Hold on a minute. There's another kind of peace. Another kind of fulfillment. Seek this first, and the things you desire so much -- well, they will take their place."

BTW, your discussion of cooties and being nice to the weird kid in class -- thanks for doing that with our kids.

JimII said...

Reading the stories as metaphor certainly does not make them simplistic.

It is also worth noting that I never thought to myself, "Wow, if Jesus could heal all of those people he must be the real deal." So, unlike bodily ressurection, which I think at some point played exactly that role in my faith development, I don't think I have as much invested in them being a remembering of an "actual" event.

I think because there are so many of the stories, with so little elaboration--just stated like a fact--that it makes me think there must have been some underlying event on which they were based.

Interesting stuff.

Matt Dick said...

I'm sure some of the recitation of events was to fit Jesus into the messiah model. Early Judaism was very much waiting for the re-fulfillment of prophecy. He needed to do a lot of that stuff for him to fill the Isaiah, Noah, Moses lineage.

JimII said...

I don't think Mark's author was doing that, or at least, not as much as say Matthew's author.

Remember, not only does Mark omit a lineage, it has no birth story at all.

Also, who in the Hebrew Scripture is the big healer? That's a straight question, btw, I was wonder what old testament fellows cured people.

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