Made whole

The Gospel of Mark, the first written and shortest of the Gospels, is altogether extraordinary, with its abrupt, laconic style, its air of mystery, and the sense of multiple meanings in every sentence. It contains very little of Jesus’ teachings, and shows him mainly as a healer. But as he himself makes clear in the scene with the man with the palsy (Mark 2: 1-12), his healing of people’s diseases is inseparable from his forgiveness of their sins. The two activities are part of one work. Disease is that which obstructs the true order of the body; sin is that which obstructs the true order of God and of our relationship with him. Removing one is like removing the other. Or, using literary language, we could say that Jesus’ healing of people’s diseases is the objective correlative of his removal of their sins, an outward action conveying an inner reality and the emotion that accompanies it.

Here is the scene just referred to. In the early chapters of Mark, Jesus is surrounded and beseiged by crowds of people seeking healing, so they must take extraordinary measures to get close to him.

And again he entered into Capernaum, after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house. And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them. And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four. And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee. But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only? And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts? Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house. And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.

Here is a scene from Mark 5:24-34:

And much people followed him, and thronged him. And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, and had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, when she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague. And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing. But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague.

- end of initial entry -

Jeff C. writes:

Years ago, I read C.S Lewis’s description of his conversion to Christianity, hoping to find what in the name of God would have compelled a literate intellectual to accept the Gospels as fact.

The detail was not there. He was unhappy to have realized the truth, it just happened during a night of thought or prayer, and he had to accept it.

And you, who will make a distinction within a distinction, are not saying, “Christianity is a good metaphor” or “a resonant myth” or “necessary for the common good.” You are saying, “The story of Jesus’ life, ministry, and divine is-ness … is literally true.”

Do you thoroughly believe this, at all times? How did it happen that you came to believe this at all?

LA replies:

Here’s a very short answer (though maybe in the near future I’ll give a longer answer): I didn’t become a Christian believer until I was about 40, and wasn’t baptized until I was 49. But I intellectually and intuitively believed in the truth of the Christian Gospels from age 21, when I read the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, and it said at the end:

And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

Those words corresponded with my own experience and they hit home. Jesus’ words were not coming from an ordinary human source, like me or you or even like some great thinker. They came from above. Jesus knew what he was talking about. He was who he said he was.

Jim C. writes:

I agree. I’m not a believer, but I enjoy reading Mark.

James H. writes:

What a wonderful posting! I first read the Gospel of Mark (seriously read) the past January. You have inspired me to reread it, late this evening. Please write more extensively about your conversion very soon. I can hardly wait. I am anxious to see parallels with my own experiences.

By the way, my pastor has been teaching, recently about the healing component in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She has asked for today to be a day of fasting and prayer, for the healing of those in the church who are physically ill. How ironic (?) that you would post passages from the Gospel account on which we have been focused.

A reader writes:

This is a comment on the “Made Whole” entry. I was moved to share my story with you. I was brought up a secular Jew in a Communist bloc country. I had never read the Bible. I was completely ignorant of both the Old and the New Testament. I just knew the “general story.” There was something that happened one night in the 1980s. My father was dying that night, and I was in a great deal of mental anguish. At one point, I heard a voice saying in my head: “Grace be to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It was a disembodied voice rather than an actual auditory hallucination. I had not read the Bible before that moment and had no idea that this was an actual line from the Bible. I suppose it is possible that I heard the line somewhere, perhaps in a movie, and unconsciously remembered it. So the first part of my experience was not necessarily miraculous. The miraculous part came next. As soon as I heard that phrase, I immediately felt very light. The pain I had been experiencing was immediately lifted. It disappeared completely, without a trace, that very moment. This was not a feeling of gradual relief, but an immediate action. It was unlike anything else I have experienced before or since. In my mind, I know it was a miracle. It took another ten years for me to undergo a formal conversion, but the conversion experience itself happened at that moment.

My faith has not always been equally strong. Sometimes I have to struggle with it. Sometimes I wonder whether, as a Jew, I am sentenced to eternal damnation for my conversion. As a Christian Jew, I also feel very vulnerable. Christian Jews are greater pariahs that regular Jews. Their conversion does not redeem them in the eyes of anti-Semites. But Jews hate them, as well. But it helps to know that there are other people like me.

LA replies:

I thank the reader for sharing this story.

Two caveats. First, I would say that while some Jews have an intense negative reaction against Jews who have become Christians, not all do.

Second, I, as a Jew who became a Christian, want to assure Jewish readers, who may be concerned on this point, that I have no design to use this site to encourage the conversion of Jews to Christianity. In this area, I am truly a respecter of individuality and of the uniqueness of the Jewish people.

I first expressed my thoughts on this subject many years ago when a Christian friend asked a question that Christians often ask: “Why didn’t the Jews at the time of Jesus become Christians?”

I answered more or less as follows:

Under Judaism, the believers come into relationship with God by collectively following the Jewish law. Under Christianity, the believers comes into relationship with God by individually following Jesus Christ. Judaism and Christianity are two different religions, two different approaches to God. They are not interchangeable. If the Jews had become Christians, they would have ceased to exist as Jews. Since they were the recipients and legatees of the first revelation of the true God, which they naturally valued above all else, it would have been unreasonable to expect them to give that up, to give up the Jewish dispensation, to give up their very identity and existence as a people formed around that dispensation, in order to become followers of Jesus. Of course some Jews, who were called, did follow Jesus. But the majority didn’t. While I believe that the Christian revelation is higher and truer and more complete than the Jewish revelation, the Jewish revelation, as the predecessor of the Christian revelation and the very condition of its existence, should be respected.

Alan Roebuck writes:

In “Made whole,” the reader wrote:

“Sometimes I wonder whether, as a Jew, I am sentenced to eternal damnation for my conversion.”

She can take heart. In Romans 1:16-17, the Apostle Paul writes:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: [Habakuk 2:4] “The righteous will live by faith.”

And in Ephesians 2:8-9, he writes:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.

And consider that in Genesis 15:4-7, God speaks to Abram:

Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Even in the Old Testament, belief (i.e, faith) gave man a proper standing with God.

N. writes:

The reader writes a most moving and believable witness of conversion, which concludes with:

“My faith has not always been equally strong. Sometimes I have to struggle with it. Sometimes I wonder whether, as a Jew, I am sentenced to eternal damnation for my conversion. As a Christian Jew, I also feel very vulnerable. Christian Jews are greater pariahs that regular Jews. Their conversion does not redeem them in the eyes of anti-Semites. But Jews hate them, as well. But it helps to know that there are other people like me.”

In fact, Jesus gathered people just like this reader. Was not Mark a Jew before he was called? And John? And Peter? And all the rest?

Perhaps the reader could take even more comfort in the witness of Paul, who as the Jewish “Christian-hunter” Saul certainly regarded Jews who had converted to Christianity as pariahs, and worse. Much worse, in fact.

On the road to Damascus, God reached down and touched Saul in a most obvious way. It is a good thing to read of, a nasty sinner like Saul being tended to and raised up in that way, to me anyway.

He then took the name of Paul, and became in the opinion of many the 12th Apostle. Certainly Paul knew both sides of the “pariah line,” and knew upon which side he belonged. Even in prison, Paul preached the Gospel, and brought jailers and prisoners alike to Christ. Surely the Apostles knew the sting of being “Christian Jews,” and did not waver. The books of James, and the book of Acts, are of help to read for new Christians and old alike. I would urge them upon the reader.

The opinions of anti-Semites and others who would excoriate the reader for conversion are of no importance. Extend only compassion to them, in their ignorance.

March 1

Mark Jaws writes:

Being a convert of sorts from Jewish ancestry to Catholicism, I enjoyed reading the story by the secular Jewish lady who has become a Christian. I do however think she overstates the plight of Jewish converts, who according to her, are ostracized by both Jews and anti-Semites. My answer to her would be, “So what?” Jews are less than 2% of the population, and probably the same with “anti-Semites.” Most Christian Gentiles rejoice everytime a Jew comes to believe in Christ, and they are far more numerous than anti-Christian Jews and anti-Semitic Gentiles.

Joseph A. writes:

I do not believe that Providence drives history in an absolute sense. The world is too wicked, and there are far too many nobler and better roads untraveled. God works with us and through us, but it appears as if he refuses to play chess with men as his pawns. That said, I often wonder why something like a “Mosaic rite” never came to pass.

I empathize with your view of rabbinical Judaism. It would be a loss to see its wisdom perish. Yet, Christ did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it. [LA replies: This is one of Jesus’ statements in which he is speaking his own language, not ordinary language. He may have meant that he was fulfilling the Jewish law in the true, spiritual sense, but from the ordinary point of view of the Jews, he certainly was coming to destroy it. There is no question that his teachings meant the end of the Jewish religion, for example, of the laws governing the Sabbath. So let’s drop the Kumbaya and frankly admit that there was an either-or situation here.] I wondered why you reacted so negatively when Ann Coulter had her episode with Donny Deutsch. Perhaps, your opinion about the everlastingness of the covenant played a part. However, I do not see why there could not be a rabbinical expression of Christianity for the descendents of Jacob. It appears that such was the early Church in Palestine and among the diaspora communities throughout the empire. Had more Jews converted, then perhaps something like Mosaic law Christians would have survived. As it was, Jewish Christians were absorbed into the general mass of Christians, the vast majority of which converted from the nations.

I also do not think that Christians come to Jesus Christ as individuals. That is a rather modern, and to be frank, Protestant, manner of describing Christianity. The gospel is not a set of intellectual doctrines but rather the life in Christ, which is a life of being fellow members of one body. Christianity is essentially communal, even for the hermit in the desert. [LA replies: Good point about the communal nature of Christianity, but at the same time Jesus is constantly telling his discicples what they need to do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and in the Gospel of John this is primarily through the relationship of the individual person with Jesus Christ. A community of believers may share in that relationship, but each individual must have it. Paul said, “Work out your own salvation.” Each of us is an individual self and center of consciousness. Even within a church community, each of us must experience for ourselves—and thus each of us must figure out in practical terms for ourselves—what the Way consists of.]

I certainly do not know what is correct when it comes to the relationship / extension / fulfillment of God’s covenant(s) with man. Yet, it seems reasonable to think that the Mosaic law, and the special way of life that developed among the Jews, does not preclude Christianity. It was the seed bed of the apostolic mission. I see no reason why it needed to end. I suspect that thoughts to the contrary demonstrate a spectacular success for hell’s strategic planning.

P.S. Thank you for your post on Saint Mark’s gospel. I find it odd that few people comment on the humor in the scripture. The reaction of the disciples to Jesus’ comment about having been touched is very funny. Like the boy who fell asleep and then out of the window during Paul’s preaching—no one seems to notice that they’re funny.

Nik S. writes (Feb. 28):

Subject: Made Whole


LA replies:

Glad you liked the biblical selection.

Nik S. replies:

Your blog is more stimulating than virtually everything I have found on the internet, videos and pictures included. I only wish I had more money to donate to such excellence.

LA replies:

Thank you.

Alan Roebuck writes:

You have raised the issue of whether the Jews need to have faith in Jesus as Messiah in order to be saved. [LA replies: I didn’t exactly put it that way.] The Apostles, who were Jews, gave a clear answer. For example, in Acts 4:12, Peter, speaking to Jews, says:

And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.

All men need Jesus because only Jesus solves man’s sin problem. Jews of Old Testament times were saved by faith in God, not by ethnic membership or ritual practices; these were but outward signs of the inner state of trusting God. Once Messiah came, those with true faith in God have faith in His Messiah, for only through faith is man’s sin taken away.

It seems to me that this does not require the end of the Jewish religion. Yes, it means the end of the sacrificial system, for Jesus is our all-sufficient sacrifice. But it is acceptable for Jews to continue in their other traditions if they have faith in Messiah.

March 3

Felicie C. writes:

Thanks to Alan Roebuck for his comment. Orthodox Jews, however, insist that people like me are damned, because once a Jew, always a Jew. I must confess that their promise of my being cast into Gehenna does scare me. I am not against Judaism. I just think, as you do, that the Jewish revelation is not as complete and perfect as the Christian one.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at February 27, 2011 12:23 PM | Send

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