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Very Superstitious

Remember the “don’t step on a crack, break your mother’s back” superstition we all picked up in childhood? Or the dread of a black cat crossing our path? Those types of superstitions are everywhere. As Stevie Wonder reminds us, 13-month-old babies, broken looking glass, seven years of bad luck…etc. Jesus wipes out superstition with a few well-timed words.

Today, we can usually shake off these childhood superstitions, but other, more deceptive ones have taken deep root. They’re subtle. Things like: if I do this good thing, perhaps my chances are better that I’ll get what I want. Or, if I don’t shave, somehow my chances will be better at some victory. It’s all a vicious cycle of trying to control our destiny because we’re, quite literally, scared to death of more things than we’d care to admit. It’s from this prison, we can see the freedom offered by Jesus.

I’ll use the story of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years who touched Jesus’ clothes while he was walking through a large crowd. I’ll lean heavily on Tim Keller to help us put this in perspective

As he often did, Jesus was on his way to help someone who was dying. In this case, it was a dying little girl. Here’s what we’re told in Mark:

When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him.

What’s interesting in this story is that you’d think “saving the little girl” would be Jesus’ primary goal. It was certainly the poor father’s. But what does Jesus do? Half way there he stops the procession and says, “Hey, who the heck touched me?”

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

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?’ ”

As Keller notes in his book King’s Cross, you can only imagine what the father and his students must have been thinking. Something like: “Dude, what the heck is your problem. We’ve got a dying little girl on our hands and you’re worried about someone touching you?”

Yes – yes he was. And here’s Jesus’ well-timed words:

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

This poor woman was thinking “if I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Jesus had much grander plans for her. Jesus isn’t interested in superstition. He didn’t want folks to just grab a piece of God and run off on their own. No, he wants to consume us whole – to completely transform us into the people we were meant to be. Jesus was saying, I know you wanted this little thing, but your faith gets you the whole package – welcome to the kingdom of God.

After only what must have seemed like hours to the poor dad of the dying little girl, we find out his daughter is dead. Jesus’ response:

Don’t be afraid; just believe.

The Way of Jesus is not superstition, or good deeds to become a better person. It’s freedom. Or as many like to put it, salvation.

Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson

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  1. Really?

    religion  
    Use Religion in a sentence
    re·li·gion [ri-lij-uhn] Show IPA
    noun
    1.
    a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
    2.
    a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
    3.
    the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
    4.
    the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.
    5.
    the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.

    su·per·sti·tion [soo-per-stish-uhn] Show IPA
    noun
    1.
    a belief or notion, not based on reason or knowledge, in or of the ominous significance of a particular thing, circumstance, occurrence, proceeding, or the like.
    2.
    a system or collection of such beliefs.
    3.
    a custom or act based on such a belief.
    4.
    irrational fear of what is unknown or mysterious, especially in connection with religion.
    5.
    any blindly accepted belief or notion.

    a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies.
    2.
    an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers: the physical fitness cult.
    3.
    the object of such devotion.
    4.
    a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.
    5.
    Sociology . a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols.

    It’s very hard to find a definition of superstition that doesn’t also cover religion and vice versa. Say what you like about it being a ‘better’ belief but it seems to me that the biggest difference between cults, religions and superstitions is who we’re talking about. (The whole ‘us’ versus ‘them’ thing.)

    • Ted Olson says:

      Thanks for your comments Sia. There are indeed similarities when looking at formal definitions of religion and superstition. This post highlights Jesus, not religion. In fact, one can make a very effective argument that Jesus did away with religion (and philosophy for that matter). Jesus repeatedly called out the religious leaders for their hypocrisy, lies, deceitfulness, and total misunderstanding of God. And you’re right, “who” we’re talking about is key. With Jesus, there was no us and them. It was just him. Jesus was saying you’re either on the side of Truth (that is with him – God incarnate), or you’re not. For Jesus, all religion points to him (all things belong to him). He is the ultimate object of faith – God in the flesh. These claims (along with his incredible power and influence) are what made the religious and government leaders ultimately crucify him.

      Jesus reached out to everyone regardless of their religion, superstitions, sordid past, or current sins. In Jesus’ eyes, everyone belongs to God – though many turn away. Jesus is actively establishing a Church (it’s full of people who continue to trip up and stumble), and a religion has been established to clarify, organize, and safeguard the teachings of Jesus as many both inside and outside the Church try to distort and/or reinterpret Jesus’ life, teachings, miracles, death, resurrection…etc.

      It should be noted too, that, in contrast to superstition, Christianity is based on reason. It’s not irrational or mysterious. And there is no need to blindly accepting anything. Jesus is who he said he was (God in the flesh). The historical record, his words and deeds, and his gift of the spirit all testify to this.

      The Apostle Paul writes this to the Romans – “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

      Psalm 19 says the same thing in song:

      The heavens declare the glory of God;
      the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
      Day after day they pour forth speech;
      night after night they reveal knowledge.
      They have no speech, they use no words;
      no sound is heard from them.

      Thanks again,
      Ted

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