Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mark 5

Mark 5:1-20: The side of the lake on which Jesus arrives is the more Gentile side of the lake. Here we have a story about an exorcism, and I have already written some important things about such stories. Here are a couple more thoughts. The authors of The People’s New Testament Commentary say that the New Testament uses language about Satan and demons to express an understanding of evil as a transcendent power. They go on to say: Modern readers may no longer believe in evil spirits in the same way as the people of the first century, but human beings in every age confront the powers of evil at work in their own world and within their own lives. When I think of addictions, I think of an evil that can warp a person's life and something that has a power of its own. When I consider the evils of systematic dehumanization like slavery, apartheid, the Holocaust, I think of evil that has taken on a life of its own. The good news of the New Testament, the good news about Jesus, is that in Jesus we see that God finally has power over such evil. The story of the Gerasene demoniac is a vivid example of such a story. The tale is powerfully told. We have a man living among the tombs. He is strong as an ox. He howled in agony and bruised himself. Metaphorically, we see people we have known in this picture, maybe even picture certain times in our own lives. In the Greco-Roman world, evil spirits were believed to be tied to certain areas, thus the demons want to stay in this country. They are legion, a Roman military term – could there be some anti-imperial themes here? They are given permission to stay in the area, but only by leaving the tormented man. They enter pigs who, in turn, drown. Upset swineherds run off to tell others what happened. The story has some humor in it. People discover the man who had been exorcised in his right mind, and they were afraid. If this guy can move demons, what is to prevent him from moving them into me? They really don’t understand what has happened, and that God’s power is the power of love to heal and to free, not capricious power. The healed man asks to go with Jesus, but Jesus sends him off elsewhere. The man shares what Jesus has done for him in the area of the Decapolis, ten Greek cities. The man becomes a model for us – share the story of how God, how Jesus, how the Spirit, makes a positive difference in our lives.

Mark 5:21-43: The stories about Jesus' remarkable ministry continue. He crosses back over the sea and is met by a crowd. First we hear about Jairus, a synagogue leader whose daughter is deathly ill. Jesus moves to help here, but he is surrounded by a crowd of people. One woman, ill for twelve years, touches the cloak of Jesus hoping for healing – and it works. Jesus senses that something has happened. The woman comes forward and Jesus speaks tenderly to her. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” The woman’s condition would have made her ritually unclean and so someone on the margins of society. Jesus is not afraid to reach out to her and welcomes her back into the community. In the meantime, Jairus’ daughter has died. Jesus tells him, “do not fear, only believe.” We really don’t get their response except that they went with Jesus into the daughter’s room. Jesus’ touch again proves healing. They are amazed, but Jesus orders them to keep quiet. The story is here for our hearing – obviously somebody told! One of the difficult elements of healing stories is our own experience of illness and difficulty. Not all of our ailments are cured, and death cannot be postponed forever for any of us. If we are sick and not cured, though we pray for it, are we at fault? Do we lack faith? Is God capricious about who will get cured? These stories are primarily about healing, which can be different from being cured. I have a chronic colon condition which I have had since age 21. I wish I did not have it. It requires daily medication that I wish I did not have to take. It has not been cured, but there has been healing in my life in the midst of this. I think I have learned something about the human body and its limits because of this disease. I think I appreciate the wonder of the body and life in new ways. I don’t believe God gave me this disease so I could learn such things. I don’t believe God withheld a cure so I could learn from my disease. My disease just is – its origins shrouded in the mystery of my genes and their interaction with my environment. In the midst of this disease, without its disappearance, I also believe I have experienced some healing in my life, healing rooted in God’s love and God’s Spirit.

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