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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