Monday, November 13, 2006

Jesus and Contagious Impurities

February 04, 2007
Luke 5.12-16; 8.40-56; (17.11-19)

On a few occasions in Luke's Gospel, Jesus heals individuals of certain infirmities which required specific rites. According to the Law of Moses, those infected with leprousy, those having an abnormal bodily discharge, and those unclean through contact with a corpse were to be put out of Israel's camp (Numbers 5.1-4). Specific ritual cleansing were required for each infirmity (Numbers 19; Leviticus 13-15). Those coming into contact with such infirmities were likewise unclean. In the case of each of these specified infirmities, a period of purification or decontamination was prescribed. Anyone contacting a corpse required multiple washings and a one week's time of purification (Numbers 19). Anyone touching a woman with an abnormal discharge required the washing of their clothes and the bathing of their bodies, themselves remaining unclean until the evening (Leviticus 15.27).

Jesus encounters a few individuals bearing these infirmities, and heals them:

1) Luke 5.12-16 tells of Jesus healing a leper. The leper obviously recognizes that Jesus has the power to make him clean (5.12). Jesus heals him and admonishes him to present himself to the temple priest, following the prescirptions of the Law, "for a proof to them [the priests]" (5.14). Recall the study of a few weeks ago (John, Jesus, and the Temple):

"While it might be suggested that Jesus is simply obeying the Law of Moses in sending those healed to the temple, most probably Jesus is demonstrating that what was previously sanctioned by the priesthood (confirming healings) had been transferred to him. Two details of Luke 5.12-15 help exemplify this: 1) Jesus assumes that the rite detailed in the Law remains legitimate (see Leviticus 13.2-17, 49; 14.2-9). 2) Jesus desires to "prove to them [the priests]" that his work is legitimate. He does what priests do, and therefore is in no need of a temple priest. His work is sanctioned by God."

Jesus likewise admonishes ten healed lepers to present themselves to the priests in Luke 17.11-18. He is proving to the priesthood that he embodied the temple-sanctions, and is in no need of the priesthood. He is the new high priest.

2) Luke 8.40-48 tells of Jesus' encounter with a woman having an issue of blood. She contacts Jesus' garment and is healed. Ezekiel 44.19 speaks to this, suggesting that when the Levites exit the outer court of the temple, they are to leave their priestly garments, and put on other clothes, "lest they communicate holiness to the people with their garments." (See Exodus 30.29 for a similar occasion.) Jesus' garment has that very effect, healing the woman's infirmity.

3) Luke 8.49-56 tells of Jesus' contact with a corpse. He took her by the hand, thus seemingly making him unclean. But she was made well.

Jesus may very well have undergone ritual purification for his contact with these infirmities; but we are not told so. The real significance of these instances in Luke's story lies in the demonstration that Jesus' garment has the power previously bestowed upon the high priestly garments alone. It is not that impurity defiles the pure, but that the impure contract Jesus' purity.

Finally, note that Jesus proclaims to those healed that their faith has made them well (8.48, 50; 17.19; [5.12-13]).

Read over these healing episodes this week. Imagine the excitement among those whom Jesus healed, as described in Luke 5.15; 8.56; 17.15-16. Imagine what Theophilus the high priest of 37-41 A.D. might have thought about these events. In what ways has Jesus made you well? Would Jesus compliment your faith as the means of that healing?


Two additional details regarding garments and healing:

1) The story of Numbers 16.41-50 is retold in the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon 18.20-25. In Wisdom, Aaron is said to have worn the priestly garments outside the sanctuary while he and Moses make intercession for the people of Israel when God is enraged. Aaron stopped the plague by offering incense and making atonement between God and the people, outside the sanctuary. While Numbers does not contain the detail regarding Aaron's garments, it is interesting that Wisdom speaks to the priestly garments' power to mend or prevent infirmity.

2) Paul's handkerchiefs and aprons help to heal the sick in Acts 19.12. Similarly, though not involving garments of any kind, Peter's shadow affects the sick in Acts 5.15.

[Most of this week's study was taken from an article by Crispin Fletcher-Louis entitled, "Jesus and the High Priest".]


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