FUMIGATION AGAINST THE ZIKA MOSQUITO IN CARACAS
When Yeshua had finished speaking to the people, he went back to K’far-Nachum. 2 A Roman army officer there had a servant he regarded highly, who was sick to the point of death. 3 Hearing about Yeshua, the officer sent some Jewish elders to him with the request that he come and heal his servant. 4 They came to Yeshua and pleaded earnestly with him, “He really deserves to have you do this, 5 for he loves our people — in fact, he built the synagogue for us!”6 So Yeshua went with them. He had not gone far from the house, when the officer sent friends who said to him, “Sir, don’t trouble yourself. I’m not worthy to have you come under my roof — 7 this is why I didn’t presume to approach you myself. Instead, just give a command and let my servant recover. 8 For I too am a man set under authority. I have soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” 9 Yeshua was astonished at him when he heard this; and he turned and said to the crowd following him, “I tell you, not even in Isra’el have I found such trust!” 10 When the messengers got back to the officer’s house, they found the servant in good health.
Many modern scholars say that we should not spend time asking if particular stories about Jesus are historical. Rather, they say, just listen to the storyteller and what he wants to say about Jesus. So here for example, we should note that this character is the first gentile in the gospel to approach Jesus for help, and as a Roman officer he is an enemy of the people, an invader, even if he has shown goodwill to the Jewish community. Here, say the scholars, we see Jesus doing good to an enemy and a foreigner, in fulfillment of his words at Nazareth about foreigners, and in the “sermon on the plain” about enemies. We also see a very precise theology of the nature of Jesus’ healing power put on the lips of a Roman soldier: Because Jesus is under (God’s) authority; he has authority over worldly things, just as the centurion has authority over his men because he is under the authority of his commander.
I agree that Luke is making these points, but I want to ask, nevertheless, if this event ever happened.
Here the reader is faced with the sort of miracle story that is almost certainly not historical. I cannot say of it, as I might of some other stories of Jesus healing people, that it is based on fact but has been exaggerated. For the whole point of this story is that Jesus didn’t go to the house, but healed the servant at a distance. I do not think that Jesus or anyone could do this. Is my conviction, and that of many contemporary Christian readers, of no importance? The sophisticated liberal scholar will tell me that I should not look to the gospel for “what happened” but for what message the author wants to communicate about God. Now I am not stupid: I know that the stories of Jesus are not eye-witness accounts but rather a writer’s version of the memory of Jesus kept alive in the Christian assemblies. But if the author is telling me that God has “done” certain things through a historical person, namely Jesus of Nazareth, then it surely does matter in the case of each and every story whether or not it happened, because , if in fact nothing happened, all we are left with is faith in God based on a myth attached to a person who may or may not have existed. Don’t get me wrong, I can imagine a faith based on that sort of myth, but I do not think it would be Christianity.
I am curious about “Luke” the author of the gospel. Did he think that things like this could happen? Did he see them happening in his own time and place? I think that first of all he saw the life of Jesus and the first years of the assemblies of Jesus as a special time in which God’s goodness overflowed into the world in miracles. But I also think that if his assembly prayed for someone and they recovered from illness he would have seen that as an ordinary miracle of God’s love. I might call that healing at a distance, but he might tell me that in the partnership of God’s spirit, there is no distance, all are equally present to each other and to God. After all, he might ask me, why do you pray for people if you don’t believe in miracles? And if God can work through your word, why not through Jesus’ word?
I appreciate old Luke talking to me like this, but I’m a stubborn swine. I think most miracle stories are bunkum and an insult to God. For if He graciously intervenes in these cases, why the hell does he allow the daily torture of thousands of children, the birth of babies with microcephaly, the agonising death of men women and children in Madaya, Syria, from starvation? Or even the agonising death of a certain Jesus of Nazareth on a Roman execution stake? Let’s get real. Let’s get down and dirty about faith. If Christianity asks me to believe in a God who sometimes does miracles but mostly doesn’t, then I will reject it as miserable gobbledygook and a slander against God.
It’s not that I think God never intervenes in the world. No, I think he/she is always intervening by persuasion and inspiration in the universe, so that God’s goodness enters the world through his creatures; and especially through Jesus who was completely persuaded by God’s way. Believers see him therefore as not merely an inspired person but an embodiment of God’s goodness, so fully under the authority of God that he could command his goodness to be done in the world by others. But not by magic. Whatever happens in the world happens under the conditions that enable and limit all events that take place on this planet. Jesus could no more heal someone he’d never met, than I can float around this room like astronauts in the international space station.
I will not engage in this argument over each and every miracle recounted by Luke, but I will indicate in each case whether I think the story has some relationship to Jesus’ real work as a healer.