Somewhere in the stated goal of many activist-type organizations, I’ve found something like the desire to “raise awareness.” We have days and months set aside for certain ailments, colors assigned to various causes and even animals paraded as mascots rallying us around problems and proposed solutions. All with the hope of getting the word out; if knowledge is power, then the much-needed transformation, the long-awaited cure, the deeply-hoped-for advancement is just a critical mass of awareness away. As one who grieves for the scars my species is leaving on our planet, one who aches for the plight of the poor, one who has lost family members to cancer, I feel like I should be celebrating the efforts of these organizations to raise awareness. Instead, I’m perplexed and a bit troubled by it.
When Jesus encountered the blind beggar, or the paralytic by the pool or the boy with the unclean spirit, He didn’t preach a sermon about it after He delivered them of their respective conditions. In fact, there are several places in the gospels where Jesus commands quite the opposite. After opening the ears of a deaf man, Jesus orders the crowd not to tell anyone (Mark 7:36). Jesus heals a leper and swears him to say nothing to anyone but to show himself to the priest (Matthew 8:1/Luke 10:14). Even apart from any healing or deliverance, when Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus strictly commands silence on this point (Mark 8:27-30).
I could probably get into all kinds of reasons for what this means and doesn’t mean; my main point, though, is that Jesus’ goal here does not seem to be the spreading of knowledge or awareness. Jesus has, in my opinion, correctly identified the “problem:” lameness, paralysis, demon possession, and acts accordingly. In our culture, it seems that we think the “problem” is ignorance and so the solution is education: if only people knew about this problem, if only people were aware of that problem, then said problem would not exist.
There’s something to be said for that. If the problem is indeed ignorance, then education is a good solution. But I have my suspicions that ignorance is actually the problem. Most people in the West, Industrialized world have access to more information than they will ever be able to process….so much to make us numb. We are overwhelmed, it seems, by all the problems, the size and scope of the problems, and the intractable nature of the problems facing our world today. Overwhelmed to the point of paralysis that looks like apathy.
And the “cure” for apathy is not awareness. We have unprecedented access to information, but information does not automatically translate into wisdom. Too much awareness can actually, I would argue, breed apathy, an understandable response to the daunting specters looming over our world today, the news about which is unrelenting. The cure for apathy, or at least one of them, is attention because attention engenders connection. When Jesus tried to hush the crowd that saw the deaf man hear, “The more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it” (Mark 7:36). It’s hard for me to imagine such excitement coming from a crowd who read about a stranger’s healing in the newspaper or on a blog with the promotional intent of “raising awareness.”
The crowd saw the personal attention Jesus gave the deaf man (have you ever noticed how Jesus never does the same thing twice?). They saw the just-for-him touch that Jesus gave, not a marketing tool employed to convert the undifferentiated masses to a cause, but a human, somewhat earthy touch from one man, God Incarnate, to another. And then they couldn’t help but testify – not to yet another big, huge, imminent crisis, but to the personal, tender healing from the hand of the Most High. Jesus may have “raised awareness,” but it was by putting his fingers into a deaf man’s ears, spitting and then raising His gaze to heaven (Mark 7:32-34).