2009-04-17

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

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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 Continue reading “3 types of miracles: Mark’s, Matthew’s and Mary MacKillop’s”

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