2009-04-17

3 types of miracles: Mark’s, Matthew’s and Mary MacKillop’s

by Neil Godfrey

Comparing miracles in Mark and Matthew

Getting physical

The first healing miracle narrated in the earliest canonical gospel (Mark) says that Jesus physically lifted the patient up before she was healed:

But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell him of her. And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them. (Mark 1:30-31)

For the author of the Gospel of Matthew, who copied much of his material from the Gospel of Mark, this was apparently not a fitting way for a god on earth to do things. To his mind, a mere touch ought to suffice:

And when Jesus was come into Peter’s house, he saw his wife’s mother laid, and sick of a fever. And he touched her hand, and the fever left her: and she arose, and ministered unto them. (Matthew 8:14-15)

Through spiritual warfare

The second healing miracle in the Gospel of Mark was of the leper.

And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with anger (orgistheis), put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. (Mark 1:40-41)

Bible translations follow other manuscripts that read splanchistheis, meaning compassion, in place of orgistheis (anger) for obvious reasons. But the authors of Matthew and Luke who copied Mark here omit this word, strongly suggesting that what they found in the original also sounded offensive to them.

And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.  And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Matthew 8:2-3)

Newcomers to this original text (according to more than one criteria used, including priority being given to the more difficult reading) of Mark’s gospel will find it easier to embrace when they recall Mark’s Jesus from the beginning is unlike any found in the other gospels. Thus from the first Mark’s Jesus is possessed (entered into, not “lighted upon” as in Matthew) by the spirit at baptism and is then “cast out” by that same spirit into the wilderness. At every point subsequently this Jesus is seen breaking apart the present “cosmos”, or world order — whether by

  • casting out demons with violence and torment,
  • wrestling with the very elements of nature (waves, storms, wind),
  • restoring physical wellness by strange charms, physical applications or conflict with contrary (demonic, spiritual) forces in the background
  • denying death through crucifixion.

Healing only Many or healing All?

Gospel of Mark’s next reference to healing is a less personal en masse occasion:

And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, . . . And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, . . . (Mark 1:32-34)

Matthew’s author is apparently offended by the suggestion in Mark that of “all” who came to Jesus only “many” were healed, so he changed that to a more satisfying:

When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick . . . (Matthew 8:16)

We get the picture

Where Jesus in the Gospel of Mark heals either

  • through strenuous or dramatic physical actions and applications
  • or through conflict with spiritual ‘attitudes’ and forces,
  • or heals only “many” but never “all” of those who come to him,

Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew heals like a serenely supreme being

  • with a mere touch,
  • or in a context where “bad attitudes” and evil forces are nothing more than a foil for the goodness of Jesus,
  • or he heals all who come to him, leaving none behind.

Matthew was helping Mark’s Jesus evolve into the supremely aloof being we associate with him today. Mark’s Jesus was the being who came to tear apart and overturn the old order as one possessed from the beginning. Matthew’s Jesus was heavenly aloof and all compassionate while in the flesh and only had to show up for evil fell to fall away before him or for all to be healed.

Enter Mary MacKillop

It’s surely not fair to compare the works of modern Australian woman to those of Jesus Christ but since a miracle is surely a miracle is nothing less than a miracle, it’s certainly not unreasonable. Perhaps the miracles of Jesus were the same originally and just got exaggerated in the repeated telling.

On St Patrick’s day 2009 a man awoke after having been in a coma for seven months.

Doctors had said they did not know whether he would ever regain consciousness, but his friend Seamus Collins says Mr [David] Keohane’s family, who were at his bedside every day, have been praying to Mary MacKillop on a daily basis and say it is a miracle.

Twice will prove it’s not a fluke

Mr Collins says the family is going to write to the Pope saying it is a second miracle that qualifies Mary MacKillop for sainthood. (From the ABC news story)

The background to this? From the Wikipedia article:

Also in 1992, it was determined that prayer to MacKillop had been responsible for the recovery of an apparently dying women in 1961; the patient was still alive and healthy in 1995. The a decree on the miracle was read in 1993, and MacKillop was beatified in 1995. For the occasion of the Beatification, acclaimed Croatian Australian artist Charles Billich was commissioned to do the Official Commemorative Portrait of Mary MacKillop. To be canonized, the postulator of the cause must now prove the existence of a second miracle. The case of a second former cancer patient is under investigation in Rome, and Pope Benedict XVI has been quoted as saying ‘She will be canonised, we’re waiting for the miracle’.

In the last days Scoffers shall come?

A commentator, named Aldaron, wrote on this story:

I worked in brain injury rehab for a number of years. Coming out of a 7 month coma is unusual, but hardly miraculous. The fact that this unfortunate man is going to need a carer for the rest of his life still remains tragic.

People are “Hollywood-ised” when it comes to unconsciousness and brain injury, and tend to assume that awakening and talking mean everything’s going to be okay. Tragically, this is not the case.

The “miracle” might be if prayer actually worked in any kind of reliable way…

Another named Nick wrote:

It is almost as if the guy was lying there with no medication, no oxygen aides, no intravenous, no life support systems what-so-ever; And miraculously through thought and prayer he spontaneously woke up and returned to the fold.

The real miracle here is modern medicine. Forget about all the hype surrounding prayers to saints etc Without all the treatment and care that he was receiving from hospital staff, doctors and modern life saving equipment – this guy would have been buried in the ground long before now.

And from another labelled “crash”:

I think it somewhat ungracious in the least, for the family not to focus their praises and thanks on the medical profession who have been responsible for David’s care and treatment. Medical expertise and biological healing has enabled his brain to recover enough to regain consciousness. The use of science and empirical practice to nurse David is in marked contrast to the praise of polytheistic inspired supernatural intervention espoused by the family. Can the faith healers explain why David’s plight might be any more worthy to single out for magic intervention than any one else on the planet?

Times and meanings of words change

How meanings of words change with time and circumstance, and with the need to create a Jesus of personal choice (Mark and Matthew), and with a need to force a mythical past into the constraints of real life today (Mary MacKillop).

  • Jeff McMahon
    2010-04-15 07:53:51 UTC - 07:53 | Permalink

    Very interesting reading. What a pity we don’t have any actual evidence from the actual occasions when these so-called miracles in Mark’s or Matthew’s “gospels” took place.We could then determine what, if anything, actually happened to these sufferers. Maybe Jesus simply told them in no uncertain manner to get off their arses, stop whinging, and make the most of what they have…and low and behold they probably did and were thankful there was a forceful person in the form Jesus who could see past all the falsities of the Jewish hierarchy who were probably responsible in the first place for the conditions suffered.

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