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'Subversive' Healing

THERE is, first and above all, a terrible irony in that conjunction of sickness and sin, especially in first-century Palestine. Excessive taxation could leave poor people physically malnourished or hysterically disabled. But since the religiopolitical ascendancy could not blame excessive taxation, it blamed sick people themselves by claiming that their sins had led to their illnesses. And the cure for sinful sickness was, ultimately, in the Temple. And that meant more fees, in a perfect circle of victim ization. When ... John the Baptist with a magical rite or Jesus with a magical touch cured people of their sicknesses, they implicitly declared their sins forgiven or nonexistent. They challenged not the medical monopoly of the doctors but the religious monopoly of the priests. All of this was religiopolitically subversive.

... The authorities are trapped in their own theology. If sickness is a divine punishment for sin, then the one who cures sickness has forgiven sin and manifested divine power.

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