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05 November 2018

Seeking Jesus—who’s curing people in the next town.

And how this got Jesus’s students to reconsider a few things.

Mark 6.53-56 • Matthew 14.34-36 • John 6.22-25

After Jesus and Peter walked on water, the gospels go in different directions. Mark heads down south to Khinnerót, a town about 8 kilometers south from Kfar Nahum. Once they land, Jesus and his students do some stuff there. Matthew follows Mark’s lead and tells much the same story.

Whereas John stays in Beit Sayid, where the 5,000 got fed, where everybody was wondering what happened to Jesus. Then they went to look for him, and it looks like they found him at his home base of Kfar Nahum. Which isn’t Khinnerót.

Readers get their choice as to how to interpret this divergence. Some of ’em claim it’s a flat-out contradiction: Jesus went either one place or the other, and can’t possibly have gone to both places. Others point it doesn’t need to be a contradiction: First Jesus landed in Khinnerót, then walked the 8 klicks to Kfar Nahum, and by the time the people finally found him in John, he was home. The stories can have happened simultaneously, y’know.

But I remind you: The authors of the gospels weren’t trying to make their stories line up, and didn’t always care about chronological order. They were sharing the parts they considered important, in an order which flowed naturally to them. If they don’t line up precisely, big deal. (If they did line up precisely, people would think they’re quoting one another—which is exactly what scholars think is the case with the synoptic gospels.) So don‘t fret that it looks like a contradiction: It’s not. The writers are just telling different stories.

But for fun, we can always pretend these stories happened simultaneously. It creates a little dramatic tension. Which, I admit, is entirely unnecessary; it’s why I say we’re doing it for fun. In real life there was probably no tension at all: No wild, desperate hunt for Jesus while he’s meanwhile busy in Khinnerót.

John 6.22-25 KWL
22 In the morning, the crowd staying on the near side of the lake looked for a boat.
But it wasn’t there; just the one.
For Jesus hadn’t gone off with his students in the boat; the students left alone instead.
23 Boats from Tiberias instead came near the place they ate the rolls for which the Master gave thanks.
24 So when the crowd saw Jesus wasn’t there, nor his students, they entered the boats and went to Kfar Nahum, seeking Jesus.
25 Finding Jesus on the far side of the lake, they said, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Why were they so anxious to find Jesus? ’Cause they deduced he’s the End Times prophet, so they wanted to stick around and follow him, and see whether he’d overthrow the Romans. The rest of John 6 dashed these hopes; I’ll discuss that in more detail later. Meanwhile there’s what was going on in Khinnerót.

Jesus the healer showed up!

Some background on Khinnerót: That’s its original Old Testament name. Khinnerót is a plural noun, and means “harps.” The lake had the same name. Some speculate that’s because the lake is kinda harp-shaped, with the west side roundish and the east side straightish. But I’m pretty sure the ancients didn’t name it after what it resembled on a map, ’cause that’s not how people name the places they discover and settle.

When you read your bible, you notice the ancient Hebrews had a habit of naming things after the stuff that went down in that place. So something harp-related happened in Khinnerót. Maybe harpists or harp-makers lived there. Maybe a monumental music festival took place. (That’d be my favorite theory.) Somebody else named the lake for the town, which was its name till Antipas Herod renamed it “Tiberias” for Tiberius Caesar.

And yeah, it’s also possible the Hebrew word khinnerót sounds a lot like whatever the previous residents—the Canaanites—used to call the place.

Over time, local dialect might’ve really mangled its pronunciation, ’cause by the time someone wrote its name in Greek letters, we got Ghennisarét (KJV “Genessaret”). And over time Aramaic-speakers converted it back into their language: First into Ginosarót, then into the singular Ginosár, and that’s what the present-day town is called. It’s known for its kibbutz, and “the Jesus boat”—a first-century boat found at the bottom of the lake in 1986, which is on display at the Yigal Alon Center in the kibbutz.

Anywho, Jesus and his students showed up in such a boat, and as soon as the locals realized who they had there, they immediately began to bring Jesus their sick.

Mark 6.53-55 KWL
53 Crossing over the lake, they came to the land of Khinnerót and moored.
54 Getting out of the boat, as people quickly recognized them, 55 they ran round that whole province.
They began to carry the unwell they had, on their beds, to where they heard Jesus is.
Matthew 14.34-35 KWL
34 Crossing over the lake to the land, they came to Khinnerót.
35 The men of that place, recognizing them, sent out word to that whole region.
They brought Jesus all the unwell they had.

Remember, science and western medicine hadn’t been invented yet. All you had were folk remedies and witch doctors, which might soothe your symptoms a little, but more likely would do nothing for you—or worse, leave you demonized. That was the situation Jesus lived in, and that’s why the people were thrilled when Jesus showed up: Here’s someone who could really cure the sick. Not some humbug with drugs, but someone whom God legitimately works through.

So Jesus was presented with every unwell person they had. Diseases, infections, injuries, ailments, mental illness, and demons. And apparently they‘d all heard what happened with the bleeder in Kfar Nahum, because they were trying the same stunt she had—of grasping the tassel of his robe.

Mark 6.56 KWL
Wherever Jesus entered—villages or towns or fields—they were putting their weakest.
They encouraged Jesus to come by so they could grasp the tassel of his robe:
As many as grasped it were cured.
Matthew 14.36 KWL
They encouraged Jesus to come by only so they could grasp the tassel of his robe:
As many as grasped it, recovered.

As I explained in that article, Pharisees put tassels on their clothes to follow the Law, which required God’s followers to weave ’em into their clothes. Nu 15.38-41 Some Pharisees went overboard in how big they made them, which Jesus objected to ’cause they were showing off. Mt 23.5 But Jesus, who never sinned, He 4.15 of course followed the Law, and wore tassels. And when Veronica touched Jesus’s tassel, her bloodflow instantly stopped. Mk 5.29, Lk 8.44

Stories like that would naturally get everywhere. Especially to the next town over. So that’s what everybody did to Jesus: They waved him over and tugged on his clothes. Don’t knock it; it worked! Jesus told Veronica her faith saved her, Mk 5.34, Mt 9.22, Lk 8.48 and that’s the very same thing which was going on here. Those who grabbed Jesus’s tassel totally believed he could cure ’em. So he did.

Jesus’s magic tassels?

Tassels had religious significance to Pharisees. They’re considered sacred. Touching their tassels is in many ways like touching a Christian’s cross pendant.

And in much the same way, someone might get the wrong idea about where miracles come from. They might think miracles can only come through sacred objects: You gotta touch the tassels, because no other part of Jesus’s clothing will get you the miracle. But it’s not the tassel which cured anyone. It’s God, responding to people’s belief in Jesus. They recognized God sent him, so God cured ’em.

Yet sometimes we do put far too much stock in sacred objects, and treat ’em as if they’re magic. There is a difference, y’know. Holy means something’s been dedicated to God for his purposes, and therefore isn’t for secular use: You don’t use holy oil to make pancakes or fix a squeaky door. You use it to anoint the sick. But magic means that same item (sometimes, we imagine, because it’s holy) has supernatural powers: The holy oil itself cures the sick.

I’ve known Christians who were horrified I’ve put my bible on the floor, for one reason or another. (Usually because that’s the most convenient place to put it.) That’s a bible. That’s a holy bible. That’s God’s holy word. I should be treating it with reverence. Which I do; that is, I treat the text with reverence, and take it seriously. But the book it’s printed in is after all a book. We treat it with reverence by obeying what God said in it, not by enshrining the book, giving it gilt edges and a leather cover, and doing nice things to the shrine. That’s treating a bible like a magic object, not a sacred one. And honoring the book itself, but ignoring what Jesus teaches in it, is dead religion.

From time to time we read in the bible about objects which appear to have power. Like the bronze snake, Nu 21.4-9 or Simon Peter’s shadow, Ac 5.15 or Paul’s handkerchiefs and aprons. Ac 19.12 Like Jesus’s tassels. But we might get the wrong idea from these stories—as if these objects were like batteries filled with the Holy Spirit’s healing power, which could be activated if only you had the magical “faith” necessary to trigger them. Yep, that’s turning these objects into magic trinkets. It totally misses the point. Faith in God cures people. Faith in the objects cures nothing.

Getting superstitious about our sacred objects misses the point. When these things further our relationship with Jesus, they’re valuable. When they don’t, they’re not. And when we treat ’em as if they have special abilities, or as if we can insult God (or them) by treating them too casually, we’re turning them into idols. You realize Hezekiah ben Ahaz eventually had to destroy that bronze snake? The Israelis had started worshiping it. 2Ki 18.4 ’Cause that’s what happens when people confuse the object with the healer.

Sacred objects are meant to reflect our relationship with God. When we use them rightly, and realize their power comes only from the One they point to, they shouldn’t be an issue. Don’t go overboard.