Common Dreams, Sydney, Australia, 2007

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 19 September 2007 0 Comments
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In your inspiring book Jesus for the
you make the case that the healing miracles
were not literal events but were instead meant to convey that
Jesus "opened people's eyes to see what life could be." I could
not agree with you more. However, John Crossan says that
healing was part of the ministry of Jesus (see page 332 of
The Historical Jesus). I cannot envision this healing
ministry in a literal sense. So, from your perspective, how did
Jesus "open people's eyes?" What would a day in the life of
Jesus of Nazareth look like? You make a profound case for Jesus
as the breaker of tribal boundaries, prejudices and stereotypes
and religious boundaries. How did this look in practice? If we
were to take a video camera and follow Jesus around, what would
we see? How did a Jewish peasant people, who more than likely
kept exclusionary boundaries themselves, experience boundary
breaking as life-giving? How can we understand the Jesus
experience without resorting to the examples of metaphorical
healing stories?


I have great respect for John Dominic Crossan, so you should
enquire of him as to what he meant by his assertion that healing
was a part of the ministry of Christ. I would agree with that
point of view, but I do not think that healing is accomplished
by divine intervention in answer to prayer or to the presumed
miraculous powers of the healer.

The human being is so wonderfully crafted that
when the mind and/or the emotions are out of sync, somatic
distress is experienced in the body. A healer's ability to
restore peace, calm and wholeness can in fact effect cures.
There are obvious limits imposed by the laws of creation.
Amputated limbs do no re-grow. Congenital distortions, like
profound deafness or eyes that do not see at birth, are not
reconstituted. Dead people are not brought back to life, and
heart attacks may be survived but scar-free heart tissue is
never reestablished.

The miracles of the New Testament do not appear
to me to be about supernatural events at all. I discussed that
in great detail in my last book, Jesus for the
The claims that the disciples of Jesus made
for the God presence that they believed they had met in him were
such that human language had to be elevated to the "nth" power
to convey what they believed they had experienced. The holiness
of Moses had to be topped by the holiness of Jesus. The powers
attributed to Elijah had to be exceeded by the power of Jesus.
The signs that would accompany the messiah inaugurating the
Kingdom of God had to be claimed for Jesus' life. That was the
agenda of the gospel writers. They sought to enable people to
see God in Jesus, not to describe what Jesus supposedly did. To
literalize the miracles of Jesus is, I believe, to distort the
intentions of the gospel writers. Let me know if John Dominic
Crossan says something significantly different.

John Shelby Spong




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