Monday, April 23, 2018

Healing touch

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly (Mk 7:31-35). 

22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly (Mk 8:22-25).

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing (Jn 9:1-7).

This is striking for several reasons:

i) Jesus could simply willed people to be healed, without resort to any means whatsoever. So why are there occasions when he heals by touch? 

ii) Likewise, why the use of saliva on three different occasions? 

iii) Commentators find this a bit puzzling. The fact that we have to guess at why Jesus did it this way indicates that Gospel writers aren't inventing stories to illustrate theological claims, for had that been the case, we'd expect the symbolism to be more overt. Rather, they record these details because that's how it happened, and not due to the theological significance, if any, of the details. 

iv) I don't claim to know the reason, but these incidents are recorded for our benefit, so we should explore the possible reasons. One factor may be that sick and disabled people often suffer from physical isolation. People are more likely to avoid them. Humans are social creatures, and touch is extremely important in human relationships. By physically engaging them, at such a personal level, Jesus is affirming their worth.

v) In the first two examples, the narrator mentions that Jesus tried to heal the individuals as privately as possible. One reason might be that he's not treating them like circus animals. He's not trying to prove anything to others by healing them. Rather, he has the sensitivity to heal them in private because he cares about them. They likely already felt stigmatized, and by healing them away from public view, Jesus shields them from the shame of prying eyes and gossipy tongues. Their suffering is nobody's business. In that regard, notice how Jesus restored the daughter of Jairus. Where possible, he sometimes prefers to do these things is a more secluded setting.

vi) Because these individuals suffer from sensory deprivation (deaf, blind), Jesus takes a tactile approach. Two can't see him act while a third can't hear him speak, so he comes down to their level, entering their blinkered experience. Expressing solidarity. Leading them out of their predicament by going with them into their predicament. 

vii) These gestures reinforce the fact that the healing comes from Jesus. A chain of physical continuity. From his mouth to their mouth, his hands to their ears and eyes. 

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