Today’s gospel reading tells the powerful story of the healing of two “daughters.” A powerful religious leader prostrates himself before Jesus and begs Jesus to come heal his twelve-year-old daughter who is gravely ill. Jesus agrees. A crowd follows Jesus as he goes toward the man’s house, and on the way, a woman touches the hem of his robe and is miraculously healed from twelve years of chronic bleeding. Jesus stops and turns to see who touched him. The woman confesses and Jesus blesses her, calling her “daughter,” and proclaiming that her faith has made her well. By this point, the man’s daughter has died. But Jesus insists they continue on to the man’s house. Jesus enters the home, takes the girl’s hand, and tells her to get up. And she does.
The healings in this story are miraculous and beautiful and a testament to Jesus’ love and mercy. But this week, as I read through these stories, I have to admit that they made me uncomfortable. Stories of Jesus’ healings often do. It’s not so much that they’re miraculous, its that I worry they give people the wrong impression.
Stories like this seem to insinuate that if you have faith, then you will be healed; and if you weren’t healed, well, you didn’t have enough faith. This theology has run rampant throughout the pandemic, misleading people into thinking that their faith is some sort of godly vaccine against the virus. To me, such theology feels so transactional: I give God faith, and in return, God gives me healing. For the most part, though, I think that theology just leads people to feel ashamed. We hear stories of people who pray fervently for healing and are healed; and maybe such healings are even miraculous. But for every one of those stories there’s another in which the person prayed fervently and wasn’t healed. Such people then feel ashamed because they feel their faith wasn’t “enough.”
But as Lutherans, we believe that faith is a gift from God. So any faith at all, whether it is measured by mustard seeds or mountains, is always enough. It’s a gift from God. There’s nothing you can do to get more of it.
Our God is not a God of transactions. God is not that petty. So what’s really going on in this passage? Let’s dive a little deeper.
Twice in this story, we hear the phrase “made well.” First, the woman thinks to herself that if she touches Jesus’ robe, she will be made well. Then, after she has done so, Jesus tells her that her faith has made her well. The Greek word for “to be made well” is sozo, and it has a double meaning. It can refer to healing from an illness, but it can also refer to salvation. The passage could and should read both: “your faith has made you well” and “your faith has saved you.” That changes things, doesn’t it? Now we’re not just talking about healing from an illness. Now we’re talking about the salvation of a soul.
There’s a lot of talk in Christian culture about getting saved. Often times, it means proclaiming Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior and then looking forward to the day when you get to leave this earth and fly around in the clouds with God. To be honest, though, there’s very little biblical precedent for this understanding of salvation.
Salvation, in Mark’s gospel, is all about the Kingdom of God. To be saved is to enter into the Kingdom of God. That’s not just something that happens after you die. That’s something that happens here and now. Salvation is seeing the world in a new way (which is the true definition of repentance in Mark’s gospel). It is entering into the forgiveness of sins. It is entering into death—the death of who your sins told you you were. It is entering into the promise of the resurrection—not just off in the future but here and now, a new life lived in the knowledge of who you really are in God. It is entering into freedom from having to worry about yourself all the time so that you can spend more time loving and caring for your neighbor. It is entering into a relationship with Jesus. It is entering into a deeper connection with God. It is entering into a community of other citizens who care for each other and push each other to be more honest disciples of Jesus. That is what salvation means in Mark’s gospel.
So when Jesus tells the woman that her faith has saved her, this is what he’s talking about. He’s acknowledging her citizenship in the Kingdom of God and all that comes with it.
Even with this deeper understanding of salvation, it still seems like Jesus is just upping the transactional ante. Now instead of healing, it’s: you give God faith, God gives you citizenship in the Kingdom. So let’s think a little more about what it means to have faith.
In Greek, the word for faith can be translated a few different ways. You’ll see it in your Bible as “faith,” “belief,” and occasionally as “trust.” Unfortunately, I think our Bible translators have let us down in translating the word as belief. Belief, in our culture, tends to be two-dimensional. When we think about belief, we think about a series of statements to which we agree. Belief is, in short, the apostles’ creed. Faith is basically just saying you believe in all that stuff. And that’s not necessarily wrong, but it’s not the whole truth.
The word “trust,” I think, gets more at the heart of what it means to have faith. In faith, there are no certainties, despite what reading the creed might lead you to believe. There are no guarantees in faith. Faith is all about trust. God has made a series of promises to us and we have faith, we trust that God is going to keep those promises. But we can’t know for sure.
When the man in today’s gospel reading finds out his daughter has died, Jesus says to him, “Do not fear, only trust.” Jesus is telling the man to have faith. He’s telling him to trust that things are going to turn out differently than they currently seem. He’s telling him to have hope that things aren’t what they appear to be. The man has no proof that his daughter will live again. He just has to trust, blindly, that Jesus is who Jesus claims to be.
This kind of faith is not transactional. It’s not a currency we can use to buy our way into heaven. It’s simply a trust, a hope, that God will keep God’s promises, that God will be who God claims to be, that God will do what God says God’s gonna do.
If we understand faith and salvation in this way, then we can see, on a deeper level, what is going on in today’s gospel reading. The man and the woman who go to Jesus for help both trust that Jesus is who he appears to be. They both hope that, despite appearances, things can be different than they currently are. In short, they have become citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven because they yearn to enter into that kingdom, to know Jesus more deeply, to experience wholeness. In that moment, their healings become, honestly, a secondary matter.
Jesus tells the woman that her faith has saved her. She doesn’t really need to be healed. She has already entered into the kingdom of God through her trust in its existence. Whether she is healed or not, she has been saved. Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” He proclaims to her what she might already know about herself: she is trusting in the Kingdom of God and seeking citizenship. She’s all set. She has what she needs. And then, sort of as an afterthought, Jesus adds, “and be healed of your disease.”
This is not an act of salvation; it is an act of mercy. Her healing is not a reward for her faith. It is simply Jesus doing what a citizen of the kingdom of God does. Citizens of the Kingdom seek what is best for their neighbors. He has the power to heal her, so he heals her. It is almost like her first lesson in Kingdom citizenship. It’s as if Jesus says to her, “Welcome to the Kingdom! Let me show you how we do things around here.”
Faith is not a guarantee of healing. Despite what so many preachers over the past 18 months have proclaimed, that’s not how it works. Your faith in Jesus is not an escape from your problems. To trust in Jesus, to be a citizen of the Kingdom, is to endure our problems with the hope that things aren’t what they seem to be. To be a citizen of the Kingdom is to minister to others in the midst of their problems, to share their burdens with them as a sign of hope that God is going to do what God has promised to do.
There will be moments in life when we cry out to God for healing and yet healing doesn’t come. In today’s gospel reading, the man and the woman both have a happy ending. But we all know life doesn’t always work out so well for everyone.
Mark tells us that the woman has “endured” much. She has been poked and prodded and experimented on by physicians and the end result is that she is broken and sicker than before. The word used to describe the woman’s sufferings is the same word that Mark uses to describe Jesus’ sufferings. It’s the Greek word “pascho,” from which we get the word “passion” and “paschal.”
Our God is not a God who stands idly by in the midst of suffering. Our God is the God who came to earth and entered into our sufferings by dying on a cross. In those moments when healing doesn’t come, when our sufferings continue on, let us remember that our God is right there with us in the midst of our sufferings, loving us even in our pain.
So go in peace, my friends, your faith, your trust, has saved you. You are citizens of the Kingdom of God.