The Gospel text for this Sunday continues to describe that special Sabbath in Capernaum where Jesus just healed the man with the unclean spirit, then proceeds to heal Peter’s mother-in-law, and then, after the sun had set, proceeds to heal many more people.
There is a whole lot of healing going on! But I believe it is unique to this gospel account that it never says that ALL were healed. This phrase appears in both the Gospel according to Matthew and the Gospel according to Luke. And the Greek word ‘heal’ (where we get the word ‘therapeutic’ from) only appears six times in the Gospel according to Mark (and the last time is in chapter six), and it is at least double that in the other two accounts (and the word also appears much later in those accounts).
While I admit that I might be reading too much into that perspective, I would like to share a little bit about the archeological work going on in Pompeii.
What does Pompeii have to do with Jesus and healing? More than you might think! First of all, there is the tradition that this gospel account was written by Mark, secretary to Peter, when both were in Rome. The tradition was also that Peter died sometime in the decade starting in 60 A.D.
Pompeii is only about a hundred miles from Rome. It was the city that was destroyed by the great volcanic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D (it also had a devastating earthquake several years before this). And, although the eruption of Vesuvius was a great tragedy and many lives were lost, the site provides a unique look into an ancient civilization. There have been some artifacts that would lead archaeologists to believe that some people were Christians.
A strong connection between Christianity and Pompeii has been made by Bruce Longnecker. He has written a couple things on this topic. And, after evaluating the data, he has suggested that the Christians in Pompeii were definitely interested in the benefits of Jesus’ power to enhance their lives, to protect them from evil. And it was almost as if the cross was a good-luck charm.
One of the pictures available from Pompeii is that of a small cross carved out of stone, and it struck me that the cross was quite elegant. It was not an ugly, basic cross, but it was if it had waves radiating out from its center. Again, I might be reading too much into this, but it seemed like a cross that spoke more about power than about love.
I would say that there can be little talk about power when Jesus is hanging there, dead on the cross. But THAT is when the centurion describes him as the Son of God. And, after his resurrection, the angel has the women focus on Jesus’ words—that he promised that he would be seen. This perspective is helpful for those who might want a ‘stronger’ ending to this account—and in their own lives.
I am not surprised that things went so quickly in such a wrong direction for the early Christians in Pompeii. That is the story in Genesis with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, as well as with Abraham, Isaac, AND Jacob. That is also the story of the nation of Israel under Moses, under the Judges and under the Kings. That is the story in the New Testament as well. Peter said he would follow Jesus until death, and then, just a few hours later, denies that he knew him three times.
Thankfully, that is not the entire story. And that is why Jesus, our Savior, showed his great love for all people. He healed many in the city of Capernaum, but then he moved on. The world’s problem is much bigger; his battle will be much bigger.