2:05 PM

Healing and casting out demons --by Beau

1. Jed has already said some really useful things about the wider significance of the Disciples' miracles of healing. I'd like to focus particularly on the relationship in verse 1 between "authority over unclean spirits" and "[the authority] to heal every disease and every infirmity." Today it would be a basic category mistake to even think that these two things could be related, but Matthew puts them together without even pausing to lift his pen. What does this mean about ancient Palestinian/Greek ideas about healing? Are spiritual health and physical health viewed as being related? (If you haven't guessed already, I imagine that this little blurb would be useful for the cultural background part of our text analyses.)

2. The commentators are unhelpful in answering questions related to this issue. Witherington (217-8) and Davies & Allison (150) emphasize that the disciples' sharing in the authority of Jesus makes possible a kind of Imitatio Christi; Carter stresses that the disciples authority gives them the ability to proclaim in acts of healing "God's liberating reign" in squalid, miserable places (233); Luz notes that the miracles the disciples' are empowered to perform are "eminently important for the formation of the church" (67); Hauerwas simply notes the fact that the disciples were given the authority to cast out demons and to heal (105). None of these commentators explicitly note any relation between the casting out of demons and the healing of disease.

Helpfully, Davies and Allison note that the phrase "healing every disease and every infirmity" also occurs at Mt. 4:23 and 9:35 (153). In both of these passages, the healer is Jesus. At 4:24 a list is given of the sorts of people brought to Jesus to be healed: "all the sick, those afflicted with various disease and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics..." (RSV). Notably, this list includes among what would be considered purely "medical" afflictions the category of "demoniac."

3. I think we should be careful of making too much of this last bit, but it seems fair to say that, for Matthew, there is no categorical distinction between someone who suffers from a purely physical disease and someone who is possessed by a demon; these afflictions are distinct, yet insofar as they create a kind of brokenness, they are one. Interestingly enough, in 4:23 and 9:35 the phrase about healing is preceded by another phrase: "preaching the gospel of the kingdom" (RSV). This tells us that the gospel and healing are intimately connected. The gospel cannot be heard by a broken person; wherever the gospel is proclaimed there is healing force. Where there has not been healing, physical or spiritual--where those who are broken have not been made whole--the gospel has not truly been preached.

Comment (1)

I like what you say at the end. If what we preach is not good news for the poor and suffering, then it's not good news.

I wonder if you might be able to illuminate demonization and how it is related to the other conditions the power of the kingdom heals by describing the brokenness you mention. You might describe that brokenness in terms of its function/effect in the human body and the human community. This would involve our typical ways of addressing what we think is "wrong" with us. It would also be important to describe brokenness in temporally extended terms, i.e., not just what it means on a given day but how its shapes persons and communities over years/generations.

A crucial feature of demonization, in my view, is how powerless it reveals the demonized and those near her to be. This is a condition that completely defies our attempts at healing/integration (like a stormy sea).

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