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(Read this series from its beginning here.)
We could interpret these healing stories through a post-Enlightenment, naturalistic worldview that challenges all miracles as a violation of natural laws. We could question the historicity of each of these stories too. But I find many more life-giving lessons from interpreting the healing stories as Richard Horsley does in his excellent volume Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder. This approach asks us to take the healing stories, not within our context today, but in the context the original audience would have heard them, given their assumptions. In the four canonical versions of the Jesus story we have today, we must hear each of these stories in the debilitating context of Roman imperialism.
Leprosy broke down a person’s place in their village community, isolating them from a community-based system of survival to an individualistic mode of survival on the edges of their society. They were on their own.
In our individualistic culture, we have the myth of success being the result of pulling up oneself up by one’s own bootstraps. One of the deepest fall-outs of colonialism is the repression of Indigenous community ways, such as the community coming together to make sure everyone is cared for, and where individual wellbeing was balanced with the common good or the community thriving. Colonialism has left each of us a “leper” today, isolated from community and having to make it on our own. This has been quite convenient for the capitalist elite, who can consolidate more power and wealth if we are only individuals working for our own survival, receiving only a portion of our work’s value, having the majority of our hard work only go to make someone else richer.
Jesus’ ministry was not to start a new religion, but to socially and economically renew his own Jewish society. His ministry involved restoring people to communal life in villages in a context where Roman imperialism was destroying communities, transforming landowners belonging to a small village community into isolated, individual, workers on land they’d once owned but lost through oppressive Roman taxation and defaulted debt.
In these stories, Jesus’ healings represent the restoration of the rule or kingdom of the God of the Torah and the victory of God’s rule over Roman rule. How this relates to our reading this week and to our own social contest today, next.
(Read Part 3)