2011-02-08

Jesus, bearing the diseases he had healed?

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by Neil Godfrey

I used to wonder if whoever wrote the Gospel of Mark intended to have Jesus in the last half of the Gospel largely reverse the role he had carved out in the first part of the Gospel.

The gospel is characterized by reversals and ironies at many points. The one who raised the dead dies, but is resurrected, too. Demons recognize who he is but his disciples fail to do so, yet when they finally do their leader himself is rebuked as a “Satan”. The way to gain one’s life is to lose it. Those commanded to silence speak, and those who are commanded to speak are silent. Jesus performs great miracles in Galilee, but when he reaches Jerusalem as the Messianic King he is powerless, rejected and slain.

Jesus is portrayed as the Son of God (cum “son of man”) until he reaches Jerusalem. He casts out the hidden demonic rulers of the world and releases those who had been held captive to their power, either with sin, sickness or outright possession. (Illnesses were believed to be caused by demons.)

The first miraculous act by Jesus when he begins his mission in Capernaum is an exorcism of a man in a synagogue. The moment of the evil spirit departing is described as follows:

And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him. (Mark 1:26)

The moment of Jesus’ death is not unlike the signs of an exorcism, with a loud shout and exiting of one’s spirit or breath:

And Jesus cried out with a loud voice, and breathed His last (Mark 15:37)

I have hyperlinked the last words to an explanation of the Greek word they translate: ekpneo. The moment of Jesus’ death is the moment of a loud cry and an expulsion or exiting of his breath/spirit. (The words are the same.)

Jesus healed the blind. Once he himself had been delivered to “the hands of men” he himself was blindfolded:

Then some began to spit on Him, and to blindfold Him (Mark 14:65)

Sometimes he used spit to heal the blind. But being spat upon was also a sign of uncleanness, and we recall God comparing Miriam, when made a leper, to one whose father spat upon her (Numbers 12:10-14).

Jesus had healed those who could not speak, and in his trial he was said to have remained “dumb” — Mark 14:61; 15:3-5:

61 But He kept silent and answered nothing.

3 And the chief priests accused Him of many things, but He answered nothing. 4 Then Pilate asked Him again, saying, “Do You answer nothing? See how many things they testify against You!” 5 But Jesus still answered nothing, so that Pilate marveled.

The allusion is, of course, to Isaiah 53:7

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

And the same passage in Isaiah may have been the source for the idea that Jesus the healer suffers the illnesses or sufferings of those he had himself healed. Compare Isaiah 53:4-5

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities

If Isaiah seems a little vague in this respect as we read it today, it appears that for Matthew it was quite clear in its meaning:

He took our sicknesses and removed our diseases (Matthew 8:17)

Jesus had for a time bound Satan (Mark 3:27), but in the end he himself was bound:

and they bound Jesus, led Him away, and delivered Him to Pilate. (Mark 15:1)

Jesus was bound to be led to Pilate. The one possessed by Legion (a Roman army) had also been bound, also ultimately in vain (Mark 5:4). (If this seems a rather tenuous link, don’t forget that the same man, once healed, was no longer naked but sitting clothed among the tombs. Images of the young man clothed in white in the tomb of Jesus come to mind, and perhaps even his counterpart(?) fleeing naked only hours before.)

I can only write down these sorts of word-image links between Jesus at his end and what Jesus had power over in the earlier part of his ministry and suggest them for consideration. Not everyone will be convinced that the author was consciously making such linkages. But to the extent that we do accept these verbal resonances, the narrative of Jesus — his Passion as much as his early Galilean activities — must be seen as a symbolic rather than literal or historical.

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Neil Godfrey

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7 Comments

  • 2011-02-08 22:04:02 GMT+0000 - 22:04 | Permalink

    Your last paragraph was nicely crafted — “these verbal resonances”. Good romp in Mark, thanx.

  • 2011-02-08 23:35:54 GMT+0000 - 23:35 | Permalink

    Must symbolic be considered mutually exclusive with literal or historical?

    • 2011-02-09 02:14:38 GMT+0000 - 02:14 | Permalink

      People have been asking for centuries, “Did the Prophet really split the moon in half or was it symbolic?”

      Are you telling me it could be both?

      • 2011-02-09 02:21:45 GMT+0000 - 02:21 | Permalink

        I am not saying that the symbolic cannot be mutually exclusive with literary or historical. I’m asking if it must always be.

        • 2011-02-09 03:01:41 GMT+0000 - 03:01 | Permalink

          Are you conflating symbolic acts with symbolic literary accounts?

          Caesar crossed the Rubicon, which is both a symbolic and historic event.

          On the other hand — darkness from noon to 3:00, zombies in Jerusalem, the rending of the temple veil? None of these things happened, but they do carry and awful lot of symbolic power, which is why the Gospel writers used them.

          Was Jesus almost totally silent from the arrest until his death (Mark) or did he have an extended conversations with Pilate (John)? Did Simon carry the cross (Synoptics) or did he carry it himself (John)? Did Jesus wash his disciples feet (John) or did he institute the Last Supper (Synoptics)?

          All the evangelists had symbolism in mind when they told their stories. It isn’t a matter of figuring out which one is right or finding that elusive kernel of truth. None of them were witnesses. It’s all a combination of symbolism and prophecy historicized.

  • 2011-02-10 10:03:06 GMT+0000 - 10:03 | Permalink

    JW:
    See my related Thread @ FRDB:

    http://www.freeratio.org/showthread.php?t=244055

    “Mark “I Am IronyMan”. How Much Ironic Contrast, Transfer and Reversal Did He kraM?”

    Going through the Passion (like I assume you did) I see the following reversals:

    http://www.errancywiki.com/index.php?title=Mark_14

    1) Handed over with a sign

    “14:44 Now he that betrayed him had given them a token, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that is he; take him, and lead him away safely.”

    Jesus identifies his hander over with a sign (“he that dippeth in the dish”). Note that “Mark” implies they all are handing Jesus over since they are all dipping. Ironically, the parallel works better with “Matthew”/”Luke” since they interpret that only Judas is meant and therefore have Jesus hand over Judas to Priests.

    2) Laid hands on

    “46 And they laid hands on him, and took him.”

    3) Spit on

    “65 And some began to spit on him”

    4) Blindfold

    “cover his face”

    5) To beat up

    “to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the officers received him with blows of their hands.”

    Saved the Gerasa demonic from getting beat up

    6) Bound

    15 “bound Jesus”

    Saved the Gerasa demonic from being bound

    7) Crucified

    “15:15 And Pilate, wishing to content the multitude, released unto them Barabbas, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.”

    Jesus crucified in place of Bar Abbas.

    8) Clothed

    “15:17 And they clothe him”

    Gerasa demonic clothed by Jesus

    9) Exorcised

    “15:37 And Jesus uttered a loud voice, and gave up the ghost.”

    There are some things in the Passion that don’t look like reversal (at least not yet), especially the Roman mocking. Especially good evidence that the Reversal was intentional are the relatively minor sufferings that normally would not be mentioned in a historical account:

    1) Spit

    2) Blindfold

    Joseph

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