Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Jesus the Exorcist and Healer

When it comes to the healings and exorcisms of Jesus it is easy to get caught up in discussions about the miraculous on the one hand, and questions about the reality of the demonic on the other. While important, those discussions need to be broadened a little. Brad, my co-minister here at Holy Innocents used to work with children with multiple disabilities. In that work he would use every channel available to communicate with the children. He remarked in a recent sermon that he could see some similarity between his work with these children and the story of the healing of the deaf man with a speech impediment in Mk 7:31-37. Those schooled in the debates about the reality of healings and the question of magic miss the very basic ways that Jesus is communicating with the man in the story. Jesus touches the man's ears and tongue, and looks up to heaven and sighs. The man would recognise what Jesus was indicating and doing. The question of what happened in the healing does not disappear, but we need not see the touching and the saliva as some kind of magic, or even just as a prophetic acting out. Jesus might have also been communicating with the man, telling him what he, Jesus, was about to do.

The same holds true with the exorcisms of Jesus. The Gospel stories explicitly weave social and political realities into the exorcisms. Two examples, both in the Gospel of Mark, come readily to mind. The first is Mk 1:21-28 where the exorcism is clearly linked to the contrast between the teaching and authority of Jesus with the teaching and authority of the scribes. And then there is the story of the Gerasene demoniac. (Mk 5:1-20) I can't remember where I read it, but apparently there is some evidence to suggest that in antiquity demon possession increased during times of foreign occupation. Demon possession, while a spiritual reality in the text, is not divorced from the political realities of the people within the text. And just in case we doubt it, the name of the demon is legion, the basic unit of the Roman army.

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