“Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told [Jesus] about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. ” (Mark 1:30-31)
Why can’t I heal people like that? I lost my dear friend, Elias, last week, and I have another friend who is gravely ill now. If only I could go to them on their deathbeds, take them by the hand and raise them up to new life. Jesus was magical. I am not.
Most of us don’t use words like ‘magic’ to describe Jesus’ miracles, but I’ve been influenced here by John Dominic Crossan who spoke of ‘Jesus, the Magician’ in his 1993 book on ‘The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant’.
Crossan says that while most Biblical commentators make a distinction between miracles, which is how we describe Jesus’ healing work, and magic, which is how we refer to everybody else’s healing work, the New Testament doesn’t make this distinction. Indeed, he says, from the broader perspective of first century Jewish society, Jesus was just one of several healing magicians practicing in His day, though certainly one of the more effective ones.
Perhaps we dislike the term ‘magic’ because we think it implies trickery. Magicians are illusionists who try to make it appear as if what they are doing is contravening the (so-called) ‘laws of nature’, whereas, in fact, all they are doing is deceiving us. That is not the only way of understanding magic. Crossan offers us a different definition, suggesting that the language we use to describe Jesus’ work really says more about our social and economic situation than it does about anything else.
If the government pays for it, and if the authorities license it and approve of it, it’s called medicine and is part of the official government-sanctioned healing process. If poor people practice it because they can’t afford officially sanctioned medicine, and if the government doesn’t credential it, it’s called magic. Medicine is respected. We are told it works and the powers-that-be approve of it. Magic is ridiculed because we are told that it doesn’t work and because the government does not approve of it.
Crossan’s book was published in 1993, long before there was any global pandemic. In the light of our recent experience though his words seem prophetic. Government-approved remedies to the Corona virus were indeed given the imprimatur of being medicine and were supported accordingly by both the establishment and the media. Alternative treatments were mocked and, in some cases, criminalised!
I don’t want to get too far off track so I won’t go on a rant about non-conventional therapies, except to say that I turn 62 in a couple of weeks yet I am the healthiest I have ever been in my life. I was a sickly child and was plagued with ear, nose and throat problems all of my life, right up until a few years back when I started focusing on alternative health paths, such as fasting, breath-holding and cold therapy.
Prescribing things like fasting, breathing and ice, rather than drugs, sounds more like magic (or quackery) than medicine to most people. It’s not approved by the mainstream, and I suspect that one of the reasons these things don’t make it into the mainstream is because there’s no money in fasting, breathing or being cold. There was no money in what Jesus was doing either, and there was no way of containing Jesus within the system, which is why He most definitely would have been labelled a magician by the authorities. He was not approved of as a physician any more than He was as a teacher of religion. Jesus was uncredentialled in every respect,
After the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, the Gospel writer tells us that ‘the whole city’ was gathered outside their door (Mark 1:33). That may have been an exaggeration, but the point is that there were a lot of people in Capernaum who needed healing. Perhaps their health system had failed them or perhaps they simply couldn’t afford the cost of the government-approved treatments. For whatever reason, it seems they opted for the magic of Jesus rather than follow the science.
Jesus worked with the poor who lacked access to approved systems of education and health delivery. Jesus lived on the margins, delivering both health and education in ways that completely by-passed the procedures laid down by the state. In so doing, Jesus showed God’s kingdom breaking in amongst these people in ways that the authorities did not understand, and of which they certainly did not approve.
Perhaps one day I will be able to heal people like Jesus did, or perhaps you’ll be given that job and I’ll stick to the forms of magic I’m already familiar with. Either way, the magic starts, I believe, when we step out into the margins.
Our Sunday Eucharist
It was a very special Sunday Eucharist last week, even though the absence of dear Father Elias added much solemnity to the occasion. Even so, I managed to contain my grief as we sang ‘Abide with me’ together, and I do believe Elias was with us as a part of the great cloud of witnesses who joined us for the event. Thank you too to Andrew, Joy and ‘Just Doug’, who were with me live on the panel,
Let me work your corner
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Heavyweight – $100/month (in-person mentoring)
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- Saturday, February 3rd – Boxing at @Legends Gym in Kensington from noon
- Sunday, February 4th – Our Eucharist from noon via thesundayeucharist.com (or through Facebook , YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn or Streamyard).
- Tuesday, February 6th – Boxing at The Mundine Gym in Redfern from 6 pm.
- Thursday, February 8th – Boxing at The Mundine Gym in Redfern from 6 pm.
- Friday, February 9th to Sunday 11th– @ Binacrombi. Please join me.
- Saturday, February 17th – Concert for Julian Assange @ The Gaelic Club in Surry Hills from 5 pm. Tickets are available through Eventbrite.
I have four more things to share today before I let you go. Please be patient:
Firstly, I want to share the recording of dear Elias’ funeral. It was a beautiful event, led by his Bishop, who was apparently a’ personal friend, and attended by many, including his family and his brothers in the Order (the Community of Saint John).
Joy and Fran and I joined around 400 people online for the YouTube broadcast. While the service was entirely in Dutch, being on YouTube allowed us to interact live with the other viewers, some of whom were happy to translate what was being said. Captions with a live translation would have been even better, of course, but I was very thankful for what we had. The recording is below if you’re keen.
The site features his eight homilies as streamed on thesundayeucharist.com, along with the official notice about his death. I am hoping for more contributions to the site. If you’d like to add a story or a video or some images you have of Elias, let me know. I can post your material for you or I can make you a co-admin of the site if you’d like to help me develop it.
I’ve also put together an eBook containing some of Elias’ work, entitled, ‘A Legacy of Insight’. It includes transcripts of the eight above-mentioned homilies along with links to the videos. I’ve added my own brief word of tribute and included some of my favourite photographs of Elias. Click the pic to download it.
Thirdly, regarding Gaza, I encourage you to continue to voice your opposition to the ongoing genocide. Thanks, once again, to Father Mark for the articles he has been posting to www.israelandpalestine.org. Thank you too to my daughter, Imogen, who created the amazing ‘Freedom for Palestine’ artwork you see below.
The design shows women performing the traditional Dakbe dance. Both the dance and the featured watermelon are symbols of Palestinian resistance. You are welcome to save this image and post it wherever you like. If you’d like the original hi-rez version (7.5 mb in size), let me know and I will send it to you.
I’ve uploaded Imogen’s image to Redbubble.com and set up a shop there. That means you can now also wear this Freedom for Palestine image on a T-shirt or hat, or have it displayed on your phone case or even on your bedspread!
The possibilities are multiple, and Fighting Fathers Ministries receives a percentage from every sale. While the mark-up is not huge, if everyone who receives this newsletter bought a T-shirt, we’d cover our monthly online costs and have enough left over to keep Binacrombi going for another month as well! So … download the image, share the message, get the T-shirt and proclaim Freedom for Palestine.
Finally, I’m keen to develop my fitness training program this year and I’d love to work personally with you. While the recent move between boxing clubs has been painful for me, it’s also allowed me to take a new approach to the work. Instead of just running set classes, my plan now is to work with individuals and small groups, either at the set times mentioned in the calendar above or at other times that suit you.
Many have asked whether I’m able to take training sessions in parks or at homes. The answer now is ‘yes’. Just contact me and let’s see what we can work out. For those of you who don’t live in Sydney, I think I can coach pretty effectively remotely so long as we connect regularly via email, phone and/or video call.
I created the Physical and Spiritual Fitness Assessment form some time ago as a tool for working with you from a distance. The system is simple:
- Download the form, fill it out, and send it back to me.
- Connect with me via phone, email or video so that we can work out where you are at and how to move forward.
Please don’t underestimate how significant this could be for you. As I say, at 62, I’m the healthiest I have ever been and I’m still competing as a professional athlete. I believe that this has a lot to do with my BLEST system (breathing, listening, eating, stress and touch). Why not give it a try. What have you got to lose?
I’m attaching the form below and I encourage you to fill it out and send it back to me. There will be no charge. Of course, if you want to work with me on an ongoing basis, I would appreciate a monthly subscription via Patreon.com (as outlined above). Even so, I’m happy to give you what I can for whatever support you can afford to give me in return. Please give this serious consideration.
My apologies for the long email today. Thanks for sticking with me to the end. Keep me in your prayers, please, as I do you.
Your brother in the Good Fight,