June 19, 2011

How does this fit together?

Returning to that story behind the story...

(Several posts were leading into this, about a month ago, which might have been better called: 1) the problem, 2) God prepares a response,  3) Where's it going?, and Hmmm. )

We've arrived at Jesus proclaiming "the good news" in the synagogues of Galilee.

Whatever this means, it's popular, at first ("We'll put the roast lamb concession right there under the big sign, 'This way to the Healer'!"...); but then it turns out to not be exactly what Jesus' hearers had in mind.

He brings up familiar stories. Elijah had cursed Israel with a drought because its rulers had been worshipping Baal; he'd gone off to Sidon because King Ahad had threatened to kill him if he stayed around. Naaman, whom Elisha cured of leprosy, had been an Assyrian general, a feared and hated enemy of Israel.

This "Kingdom of God," as everyone understands it, is to be the restoration of Israel, free again at last, under the rule of Israel's God, everyone at last reconciled to Him... But Jesus is including foreigners in the story, not as enemies to be driven out and conquered, but as people whom God intends to share in the benefits.

That isn't an unknown interpretation, in the many 1st Century variations of Judaism; way back in the story of Abraham (where all this starts) God says that his descendants are to be a blessing to every family on Earth. And in Isaiah 49.6: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the Earth."

But that's not the way people around here feel about it. About thirty years ago, the Romans marched through this part of the country, and lined the local roads with 2000 agonised young men, dying on crosses. What happens to the young women isn't even mentioned. Since then, the local rulers (and high priests) appointed by the Romans continue to be a burden on the locals, in addition to the Romans' own demand for tribute. Somewhere among the stories Jesus tells his home-town neighbors, he really strikes a nerve.

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And he drives out sickness and "demons". He's restoring the natural order of Creation wherever he goes... but what exactly are these "demons" doing in the story? This is the same word, basically, as Socrates uses to describe his own daemon. Not necessarily evil beings, although these in particular seem bent on outing Jesus as the Messiah-- not an identity convenient for him to acknowledge. (Both Matthew and Mark have it that John the Baptist has recently been imprisoned by Herod Antipas, evidently for disapproving of Herod's political divorces & marriages.)

"Demons" seem unusually prevalent in 1st Century Palestine. Do we diagnose such conditions differently; should we? Or was there some reason that (whatever they might or might not be) there really were more examples to be found then?

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