Conrad Gempf: 5th Sparrow

November 2000
The remote-control healings
Previous 5th Sparrows

Comment on this column Jesus could heal people virtually, apparently. He didn't have to be there. Sometimes he'd be with someone and they'd ask for healing and next thing you know some lackey would come running up saying that the target had been healed at 30 paces at the very moment that Jesus said so.

Other times, Jesus acted suspiciously like a witchdoctor. He didn't just "lay hands" on people, but on a few notable occasions wound up using props like saliva and mud.

Why the different modus operandi?

The best guess is that he dealt differently with different people simply because they were different. Some people needed the props to be convinced that he meant business; others did not.

One of the few people involved in a remote control healing was the centurion in Matthew 8. It's clear that this was a guy who understood something of what Jesus was all about, and Jesus was able to dispense with the props and gestures (there are healing stories immediately before and after: both involve touching). Jesus marvels at the centurion's "great faith".

Sometimes he's very polite with people, sometimes he's painfully simple and teacher-to-child-like... imagine asking blind people "What would you like me to do for you?" (Matthew 20:32). On at least one occasion he's downright insulting. In Matthew 15, when a foreign woman asks for help for her daughter, Jesus appears to refuse with the remarkably insulting: "It is not right to give the children's bread to the dogs!" Excuse ME... to the DOGS!?

But the woman's request does not go ungranted. Why?

Jesus was a teacher, a motivator. From all of the evidence we have, he was superb at gauging where people were at, what they were thinking and what they were capable of. And he used this knowledge not to make them all feel comfortable, but to prod and stretch them. He was rude to this woman because he knew she could take it or perhaps because she needed to be reminded of God's authority. But it appears that he knew she would push. And he knew that effort on her part would force her to take him more seriously.

She replied "Yes, Lord, but even dogs may eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table."

His reply to her, and the smile that would have accompanied it, must have dissolved the tense atmosphere in that interchange: "Woman, you have great faith!" Not very many people heard that from Jesus' lips. And that very hour her request was granted.

Remote control. Great faith, not little. She's no dog.

When Jesus was rude to the Jewish religious big wheels, was he trying to provoke just such a response? Did he expect great things from them? Was his the frustration of anger or of disappointment?

Is God ever rude to you? What his next line will be depends upon yours.

Dr Conrad Gempf is a lecturer in New Testament at London Bible College. He also writes for and edits the monthly webzine there.

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