Today we continue our Lenten worship series on the various roles of Jesus, as presented in the Gospel of Mark: What does Jesus do in his ministry? What does he consider most important? Last Sunday we looked at “Jesus the Teacher,” discovering that teaching was one of Jesus’ first priorities, and discussing what his teachings were, to whom he delivered them, and how. In future weeks we’ll consider such themes as “Jesus the Reformer,” and “Savior,” and “Victor.”
And today we consider Jesus the Healer. There are many healings in the Gospel of Mark; what does he wish us to learn from them? Why does he present them? Why does he present the ones he does, and not others? What do they mean?
Part II, then, of “Mark’s Jesus”: Jesus the Healer.
As we did last week regarding his teaching, we’ll look today at several features of Jesus’ healing as presented by Mark, and look at questions including who is healed and how and why. We’ll begin with a when—when did Jesus heal—and we see from our first Scripture reading today, as well as others, that, often, when Jesus healed was after being interrupted in his teaching.
When Jesus went into a home in Capernaum in Mark 2, he went there to teach; “he was preaching the word to them,” verse 3 says. And the teaching was interrupted when, suddenly, pieces of the roof over his head were removed, and a stretcher started coming down on top of him. That would be a hard event to ignore and go on teaching, so Jesus stopped, and then proceeded to heal the paralytic on the stretcher. Elsewhere we see him teaching in a synagogue, and healing a demon-possessed man only when he shouts out and interrupts the teaching. Even such remarkable stories as the feedings of thousands of people, the stories that stand out in our minds because of the miracles, began as teaching events. Jesus went there to teach. It’s only after-the-fact, after seeing the condition of the people, that the episode becomes a miracle story as well. Jesus’ intent, frequently, was to teach.
But something would happen, at those moments, to change Jesus’ priorities. Something would come up which suddenly seemed more important to Jesus than teaching, something which even more deserved his attention. That something was a person, or people, in physical need—a man who couldn’t walk, a demon-possessed person, the hungry. When presented with the choice between continuing to teach and meeting someone’s physical needs, healing them, Jesus would change his focus and opt for the healing.
What moved him to do so, in many of these situations? What prompted him to shift gears? Often, Mark tells us, it was compassion. “Feeling compassion for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.” “He took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” “I feel sorry for all these people, Jesus said.” “Have compassion on us and help us.”
The Greek word for compassion, or pity, has a wonderfully-graphic origin, much more picturesque than our English word. It is “splongchnizomai,” and it derives from the word meaning “entrails, guts, insides.” Jesus looked at someone in need and his insides twisted, twinged, churned; that was how much the situation moved him. That’s how strong his sympathy for their condition was.
You’ve probably experienced the same thing when hearing certain news stories, or watching certain movies, or hearing of something awful happening to a baby or maybe even a puppy or kitten; an emotional reaction so strong that there’s a literal, physical response—a twinge, or hollow feeling, of the stomach. That’s splongchnizomai. That’s how Jesus responded when he saw someone in need; that’s how strong his compassion was. So he would leave off his teaching—his crucial, essential teaching; a main reason for his being here. He would leave off his teaching to respond to their need. He would heal them.
Whom did he heal? The healings must have numbered in the hundreds. There are several verses which refer to his touching or healing for hours, responding to all who were sick and who came to him. Mark picks out certain of those healings to tell us about, choosing them for a variety of reasons.
- He shows us Jesus healing Jews, like the people of Capernaum and the woman suffering from a hemorrhage; and Gentiles, like the man living in the tombs and the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman.
- He shows us Jesus healing old people who had been afflicted for many years, and young people like Jairus’ daughter.
- He heals people who are right before him, whom he touches, like the blind man of Bethsaida; and people who aren’t even present, like the Syrophoenician girl who is sick at home while her mother comes to Jesus; he heals her from afar.
- He heals people who call out to him themselves, and work hard to get his attention, like blind Bartimaeus; and people who do not approach themselves, but are helped through someone else’s coming to find Jesus on their behalf.
- He heals those who are hurting on the Sabbath, even though it was forbidden by religious authorities—even in the synagogue, right in front of the objecting Pharisees.
- And he healed just about every type of infirmity we can think of. He healed even the severest physical conditions: blindness, deafness, paralysis.
- He healed those with mental illnesses like, again, the man living amongst the tombs. He healed those who had already died!
- And he healed souls; he addressed spiritual problems. What are his first words to the paralytic coming down through the roof? “Your sins are forgiven.” In a situation where the man’s physical condition and the reason he had been brought were obvious, Jesus’ first concern was to heal the weaknesses of his soul: “your sins are forgiven.”
In short, he healed just about anything and everything we can imagine, and he healed everyone who approached. There is not a single story of Jesus refusing to heal someone. He healed them all.
One of the questions it’s good to ask of gospel writers is: why did they single out the particular incidents which they did to write down? Why not others? If one of Mark’s intentions was to present the variety of healings which Jesus could and chose to accomplish, another seems to be to present those that demonstrate how great Jesus’ healing power was. Thus he presents certain stories which prove the extent of that power: The healings we read from chapter 5 show that Jesus could even conquer death, as he did with Jairus’ daughter. He also conquered those illnesses which no one else had been able to. Mark makes a point, in describing the bleeding woman, of saying she had had long and painful treatment by many different doctors, and spent all her money on treatment, and nothing had helped. But Jesus could. His power was so great he even healed when not planning to: she was healed when she touched his cloak, before he even knew she was there.
In Jesus’ time and the time of the writings about him, blindness was regarded as a particularly mysterious and uncurable condition. Being able to heal blindness is second only to reviving the dead as a sign of one’s power; think of how few instances of curing blindness there are in the Bible. No one in the Old Testament ever heals a blind person, not even Elijah or Elisha. None of the apostles ever heal the blind. In the whole Bible, only Jesus did that; in Mark 8 and 10, two blind men are healed. Much illness was attributed to demons, and Jesus’ power over demons is repeatedly attested to—even large numbers of demons in a single person. And Jesus’ power is attested to in one other way: he can heal those no other believers could. In Mark 9, even Jesus’ own disciples cannot heal an epileptic boy. But Jesus does. Mark’s Jesus the Healer is a healer of unsurpassed power.
And Mark sometimes singles out a healing to make a particular point. We’ve referred a couple times already to the healing of a blind man at Bethsaida. The place in his gospel which Mark chooses to tell this story is significant. Immediately before it, there is one of those episodes where the disciples just aren’t understanding what Jesus is trying to tell them. They, quote, “have eyes but do not see”; they cannot “see” clearly what it is that’s going on. They are, figuratively, blind. Then Mark tells the story of Jesus healing the blind. And then, immediately, is the account of Peter’s finally-correct testimony about who Jesus is: “You are the Christ.” Peter finally sees. The disciples don’t see; Jesus heals a blind man; Peter sees. Sometimes the location of Mark’s healing stories within the gospel are significant, too. They are used to make a particular point.
And finally, we ought to look at why Mark’s Jesus heals. We have touched on some reasons already:
- The immediate, personal reason for Jesus’ healings is that he felt compassion for the people; it’s almost as if he had no choice, given how strongly he empathized with their situations and how much he loved.
- Healings also demonstrated Jesus’ power; there had to be many believers won over by his power to cure the sick or disabled, and raise the dead.
- Third, if Jesus’ life is meant to be an example for us, his healings suggest that we have a call to show compassion to those who are afflicted. Jesus does not flee or fear or shut away in an institution the mentally disturbed man of chapter 5, for example, but approaches him to see what he can do to help.
- And fourth, Mark’s Jesus heals sometimes to make a theological point, like the healing of the disciples’ figurative blindness.
But perhaps more than anything else, we need to keep in mind Jesus’ objectives in joining us on this world. And a primary objective was to reveal to us who God is. Jesus tried to correct certain religious errors of his time, and to replace them with a true picture of who God is and what God wants of and for us. And Jesus, representing God, wanted people to be whole. Jesus, in his quest to show us God, showed us love and concern for the complete well-being of people—all people. God is one who wants us to be whole—mind, body, and spirit—and who will take steps to make us whole if we will just let God work. Mark’s Jesus shows us that loving, healing God.
Imagine an elementary school teacher who would not break off her teaching when one of her pupils got a nosebleed, but just went rattling on, ignoring him. Imagine a hockey or basketball game continuing on indefinitely while a player lay injured on the court or ice. Even in our wars, special provisions are made to allow medical attention to the wounded; hospitals and the Red Cross are given special privileges and protection. Jesus took that kind of compassion, the compassion we already practice on limited terms, and, representing God, expanded it to include all people, in any or even no relationship to himself, in all circumstances. Such is the love of God, as demonstrated by Mark’s Jesus, the Healer.
As we wrap up our discussion of Jesus and healing today, one more reminder: Jesus isn’t dead. Remember that holiday called Easter we have coming up? Jesus still lives, and we have no reason to think that he is any less interested in healing now than he was two thousand years ago—or any less moved when he sees those of us he loves hurting. Jesus still wishes to heal.
So today, in the coming week, and into the future, the invitation still stands, for you to ask Jesus for healing. It may be a request for your own healing. It can be a request to heal someone else. It can be for the healing of hurt feelings, or of a broken relationship. It can be for the healing of a part of our world which is torn by war or famine or unrest.
Whatever your request is, you may bring it to him, as did people in Palestine so long ago. For Jesus is still. . . the Healer.
Let’s pray: God thank you for caring for each one of us, and wanting to make us whole, and showing that care through Jesus’ ministry. We ask that you hear our prayers for healing, later in this service and throughout the coming week, and pour your power upon all parts of this hurting world that need your loving care. Amen.