Musings on “Doctor Who” and the Great Physician
Ever since my early teens, I’ve had a love of science fiction. This was not passed on to my daughter. All through her childhood and adolescence, I could never interest her in anything science fiction-related whatsoever. This all changed this year, when a friend of hers introduced her to “Dr. Who.” Throughout the summer, Gail and I had the pleasure of watching all the episodes with David Tennant and Matt Smith with her. It was actually a return for me to my earliest exposure to science fiction, when as a child I watched with a combination of fear and fascination “Dr. Who” in the mid-sixties in England.
Those of you who have watched “Dr. Who” (which, incidentally, can be watched this Fall, Saturday evenings on the Space Channel) know that the Doctor is an extra terrestrial who takes with him human companions on journeys through space and time. These companions usually begin with these opportunities to visit other worlds and ages as the main focus of their excitement. But it doesn’t take very long before they come to see that the deepest wonder is something else. Their deepest wonder is actually the incredible privilege of being the Doctor’s companion. They find themselves being transformed, not so much by where they visit as by their close connection with the Doctor. Through their connection with him, they become more than they ever dreamed they could be.
I would like to suggest that just the same thing occurs for us in our call to be disciples of Jesus.
The Gospel passage for September 2, Mark 7:1-23, begins with the authorities criticizing Jesus’ disciples for eating with hands that are “defiled” (that is, “ceremonially unclean”). This incident occurs just after Jesus has healed a Gerasene demoniac from an “unclean” spirit in an “unclean” place (the tombs); healed by touch a woman with flow of blood (making her and all she touched ceremonially “unclean”), and the “unclean” dead body of Jairus’ daughter; and healed by touch the sick of Gennesaret, who were laid out, in all places, “in the marketplaces.” Right after this encounter, Jesus ventures into “unclean” Gentile territory and heals two “unclean” Gentiles.
As the disciples spend time with Jesus, he is teaching them, by word and deed, what is important, how to live. Jesus’ words and actions bring into sharp distinction two ways to approach life: “What is unclean defiles, so you need to build up walls to protect and insulate;” versus: “What is clean purifies, so you need to reach out and touch.”
Jesus teaches by word and example the latter way. He shows that life is about so much more than we had dreamed. His issue with the Pharisees and legal experts was that they were concerned about surface, superficial matters, seemingly unaware that they had a need for cleansing, for transformation, that went heart-deep. As Tom Wright says in his commentary on this passage, “We have a problem, a problem that runs right through us. There is a crack in the building which isn’t just a bit of damaged stonework on the exterior; the whole structure is faulty.”
The authorities were talking about a makeover. Jesus was talking about radical surgery. Jesus gives a list of attitudes of the heart that “defile” – placing us in inner bondage and darkness, in inner uncleanness. This is contrasted by the inner cleansing that comes from God’s love within our hearts – a heart that reaches out to God and all that God has made.
To know this inner cleansing, all of us need the life of Jesus within us. We cannot cleanse ourselves! We need the healing touch of “the Doctor,” Jesus the Great Physician, to set us free. May we all “trust our Doctor” and allow his life to transform ours, so that we can become more than we ever dreamed we could be – all that he wants to enable us to be.
(This is adapted from the sermon at our September 2 Services. Embedded below, are videos of a fun summary of “Dr. Who” from 1963 to 2011, and the “Dr. Who” theme for my personal favourite Doctor, Tom Baker.)