A Healing Trust

The mission of Christ was not to guarantee healing, but to give hope.

by Shively T. J. Smith

Illustration of Mark 10:46-52

Terri Scott

I was 17 when I lost my 15-year-old brother to cancer. Because of this, I have often pondered questions about healing and faith. Is everyone who is sick meant to be healed? If a believer in Christ dies from sickness, does that mean the person lacked the faith to be healed? How do we answer others regarding the miracle of healing when we are unclear about what the healing stories of Jesus tell us? Many Christians wrestle with questions about healing and the Bible at some point in our lives.

The Gospel of Mark is an instructive entrée into the question: What is the relationship between Jesus and healing in the New Testament? In Mark’s Gospel, readers encounter Jesus as healer almost at the outset. Immediately after his baptism and temptation, Jesus announces the core message of his preaching, saying “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). He then commissions his first disciples (Mark 1:16–20) and begins teaching “as one having authority” (Mark 1:22). All this, and we’re barely halfway through the first chapter of Mark. The writer has set his theme firmly.

In this context of nascent discipleship and authoritative teaching, Mark depicts Jesus as healer not just one time, but four times in his first two chapters alone! Jesus heals a man from an unclean spirit (Mark 1:21–28), remedies the bedridden fever of Peter’s mother-in-law (vv. 29–31), cures a man of leprosy (vv. 40–45), and mobilizes the paralyzed man in the company of his four friends, a crowd of onlookers, and the skeptical scribes (Mark 2:3–12). Mark also casts Jesus as performing many other healing deeds of power that go unspecified (1:32–34; 6:53–56). In each instance, however, the image of Jesus as the one with divine authority and a divine mandate is on display. Healing a person is not the good news in and of itself. Rather, the good news is that Jesus, the One who interprets Scripture with authority, selects disciples, and liberates God’s people, has most definitely come.

Healing in the Gospel of Mark

Understanding the function of healing in the Gospel of Mark is vital to guarding against erroneous interpretations of Jesus as healer. The perspective that Jesus’ healing of the sick is solely contingent upon that person’s level of faith is dangerous and out of step with Scripture. In Mark, healing and faith are not easily correlated. The miracle of healing comes from and produces different outcomes. For example, the healing of the paralyzed man causes wonder and prompts people to “glorify God” (2:12), but the healing of the man possessed by demons in the region of Gerasene causes fear and rejection (Mark 5:15–17). In the healing of the woman with a 12-year hemorrhage, faith precedes her wellness (5:34); in the healing of the boy with convulsions, however, the father initially approaches Jesus in doubt saying, “… if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us” (9:22).

Furthermore, Mark’s Gospel illustrates that faith in Jesus and miraculous healing do not resolve all human challenges, struggles, and issues. At times, Jesus’ acts of healing stir up more trouble than they resolve and raise more questions than they answer (3:1–6). Although the relationship between faith and healing in Mark is a moving target, the Gospel consistently depicts healing as opportunities for further proclamation about Jesus’ identity and purpose (1:44–45; 5:14–20; 7:36).

In fact, it is within the context of Jesus demonstrating his authority as teacher and proclaimer that many of Mark’s stories about the healing Jesus occur. For much of Mark, Jesus is healing in tandem with teaching about his mission and identity. In such cases, Jesus’ deeds of power are in service to his message. According to Mark, Jesus has come to proclaim the forgiveness of sins (Mark 2:10; 3:28) and the communion of God and humanity (Mark 11:25). The ultimate takeaway of the story is that God forgives and accepts the unacceptable. Healing is not the message; rather, healing amplifies the message that Jesus loves God’s people enough to call us together.

The correlation between the healing Jesus and the teaching Jesus converge in the story of Blind Bartimaeus (10:46–52). Its significance for understanding the meaning and function of healing in Jesus’ ministry cannot be overstated. Jesus’ ministry began in his baptism in the Jordan River and spanned the countryside of Judea and Galilee (Mark 1:39–1-:52). The encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus is the last healing story in the Gospel of Mark. It is also the final moment in Jesus’ ministry before the events of the last week of his earthly life. From the lips of a poor, blind beggar in need of healing comes the truth of Jesus’ mission.

While asking Jesus to heal him, Bartimaeus pronounces Jesus to be the Son of David. This is the first time such a claim is made in Mark (10:47). It serves a prophetic function in that it foreshadows the forthcoming event: Jesus’ kingly entrance into Jerusalem as the heir to the throne of David, the greatest king of Israel (Mark 11:1–10), an image the Jewish people would have connected to God’s promise to bring salvation through David’s lineage. It also depicts an emerging theme: Jesus’ true disciples recognize Jesus’ specific brand of redeemer. Although Jesus is destined to enter Jerusalem as a sovereign king, he conquers not through life but death. Jesus taught that the Son of Man “must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31).

Likewise, the second term Bartimaeus uses in addressing Jesus, “Teacher,” plays an important role in the story (v. 51). Mark is the only Gospel writer to include this detail. In both Matthew and Luke’s versions, at this point in the story Bartimaeus addresses Jesus as “Lord” (Matthew 20:29–34; Luke 18:35–43). Jesus is addressed as “Teacher” three other times in Mark (9:5; 11:21; 14:45). Together, the attributions of Jesus as Son of David and Teacher legitimize him as one sent by God to: (1) interpret Scripture, (2) call disciples together, and ultimately (3) liberate God’s people from sin to life eternal (Mark 10:30). Healing Bartimaeus confirms Jesus’ role.

Healing does take place in the story of Bartimaeus, although that healing is left incomplete. Upon hearing Bartimaeus’s pleas, “Son of David, have mercy on me” (Mark 10:47, 48), Jesus responds by calling him over. Bartimaeus obeys and in the process of going to Jesus abandons his cloak. The story does not state that Bartimaeus doubles back after his healing to retrieve his garment. Rather, contrary to Jesus’ command to “go,” Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way to Jerusalem (v. 52), leaving all behind for the sake of Christ and the good news (Mark 10:29). While Bartimaeus’s physical malady is remedied in that he can see, the story never states whether the healing also resolves his social and economic circumstance of being a beggar. Mark has Bartimaeus going forward with Jesus as one who sees, but with fewer possessions than he had initially. In this way, the healing was complete, but not necessarily holistic.

Comfort in Christ’s Mission

Thinking through all the types of healing possible in Christ was not Mark’s point in telling healing stories. The Gospel writer specified 12 healings in his account (and mentioned others in summary statements of events in Jesus’ ministry), and each of them is in service to magnifying the image of Christ and clarifying Christ’s mission of salvation for many (Mark 10:45). The mission of Christ was not to guarantee healing from every physical discomfort or dis-ease. The overarching image of Jesus that Mark conveys to his readers is that One has suffered, died, and risen so that humanity could have hope and life for the future, which in turn provides peace, hope and community in the midst of loss, pain and hurt.

Embracing Mark’s proclamation that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1), means we can be like Bartimaeus. We can throw off the stuff of life that keeps us stationary and spring up ready to follow Christ’s instruction in our blindness, our sparseness, our pain, our fear, our doubt, and even our grief. Christ responds to our pleas for help and healing in ways that we request, but also in ways other than we imagine. While my brother’s healing came in the form of his final transition, my healing from that devastating loss came through trust in the core identity of Jesus Christ and the people of God gathered around me. Jesus is yet the Son of David, the Teacher, and the Healer that we follow with tears, hope, courage, and expectation for real healing miracles—seen and unseen—lived out day-to-day among others whom Jesus continues to touch.

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