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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Who Touched Me?

Last weekend my family and I visited a church here in our new home of Colorado Springs. The pastor was preaching about the healing of the women in Mark 5 (also found in Luke 7 and Matthew 19). After talking at length about the human need for touch and drawing the application that we, like the woman, shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to Jesus and that no problem is big enough to separate us from Christ’s love, the pastor made a passing reference to Mark 5:30-31.

“At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’

‘You see the people crowding against you,’ his disciples answered, ‘and yet you can ask “Who touched me?”

In reference to Jesus’ question the pastor said something to the effect that “Of course, Jesus knew who had touched him, he just wanted the women to come forward and admit it.”

I’ve heard this same notion expressed from the pulpit before and it always intrigues me as to why one would assume that Jesus’ question was not sincere. It seems to me it stems from the belief that since Jesus was God incarnate, he therefore was endowed in his human nature with the attributes of God and so would be omniscient and therefore know who had touched him. In an essay called The World’s Last Night C.S. Lewis writes about the timeless nature of God and how this view tends to…

“conceal an attempt to establish a temporal relation between his timeless life as God and the days, months, and years of his life as Man. And of course there is no such relation. The Incarnation is not an episode in the life of God: the Lamb is slain – and therefore presumably born, grown to maturity, and risen – from all eternity. The taking up into God’s nature of humanity, with all its ignorances and limitations, is not itself a temporal event, though the humanity which is so taken up was, like our own, a thing living and dying in time. And if limitation and therefore ignorance was thus taken up, we ought to expect that the ignorance should at some time be actually displayed. It would be difficult, and, to me, repellent, to suppose that Jesus never asked a genuine question, that is a question to which he did not know the answer. That would make of his humanity something so unlike ours as scarcely to deserve the name. I find it easier to believe that when he asked, ‘Who touched me?’ (Luke 7:45) he really wanted to know.”

To me this view makes a good deal of sense and relates to the main point of Lewis’ essay, the second coming. Taking the view that Jesus never displayed any human qualities such as real curiosity of lack of knowledge forces one to make unnatural interpretations of passages such as Mark 13:30. Here, Jesus says:

“I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”

Most modern evangelicals will interpret the word “generations” here to mean “race” as noted in the NIV from which the above is quoted. While substituting the word “race” seems to alleviate the apparent difficulty of Jesus not knowing when these things would be fulfilled, Lewis points out that this kind of ploy is unnecessary (not to mention pointless since it makes the verse a tautology) since two verses later Jesus also says:

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

As Lewis says, “To believe in the Incarnation, to believe that he is God, makes it hard to understand how he could be ignorant; but also makes it certain that, if he said he could be ignorant, then ignorant he could really be.”

I should mention that there is also a view of the second coming known as Preterism that holds that Jesus was correct in his assertion of Mark 13:30 since the events he describes culminated with the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in 70 C.E.


unca said...

Well, I tend to agree with you. However, it does present a kind of slippery slope. If Jesus was ignorant of temporal facts, could his knowledge in other areas also be questioned? Are we then free to assert that his teachings might be suspect from human shortcomings?

Dan Agonistes said...

Yes, I think it does introduce a slippery slope (which makes me uncomfortable) but I'm not comfortable with the alternative either.

I think maybe his teachings could be put in a different category. Lewis also noted that great moral teachers serve to remind people of the moral law rather than lay down new moral precepts. A good example is the Golden Rule, which is taught in much the same form by the Jewish rabbi Hillel and the Helenistic Jewish philosopher Philo.

Jon Ericson said...

This hits on the mystery of the Trinity. Moses was unable to look in the face of the Father due to His glory, which is a limitation to his power to relate with people and why the Incarnation was needed. Paul says that Jesus took on the guise of humanity because He "didn't consider equality with God something to be grasped" (Phil. 2:6). I do think we can be confident about His teaching, because He was informed by the Holy Spirit. His question was in earnest not because God didn't know the answer, but because the Holy Spirit didn't reveal the answer to Jesus.

In terms of the Olivet Discourse in Mark, I lean toward the Preterist reading, but more because of the context of the prophesy (the destruction of the temple) than Mark 13:30.

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