Biblical Storytelling and Healing Stories
Healing and miracles are a mystery.
Many a Christian has prayed hard and long for a cure or remission of illness or a restoration of body and mind, for themselves or others, and has been discouraged with the lack of visible results.
Sometimes they have concluded that it is their lack of faith that is blocking the cure. They may think that it’s their fault and feel guilty and helpless and hopeless.
Taken out of context, passages like Mark 11: 20-26 give that impression. Here Jesus has cursed the fig tree and it has withered. In the midst of his authority being questioned and the chief priests plotting how to kill him without upsetting his followers, he tells Peter:
“Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea.’ And if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours.”
That sounds like a mandate to remove all doubt in your heart and envision your request already granted and you have the power to get it. Oh boy, you have the magic formula. It’s all up to you. But it’s not that simple when it comes to healing. Our openness to the possibility that God can, might or will intervene may contribute to the positive change, but we are not in ultimate control.
God promises to be with us through all things and never forsake us; but difficulties and suffering are a part of life for now. The compassion of Jesus the Christ helps us endure and the Holy Spirit gives uplifting, life-giving encouragement whatever our circumstance.
What does the Gospel of Mark have to say about the ingredient of faith in healing? Of the 13 healing stories, in only two does Jesus directly commend the faith of the person healed: Mark 5, the woman who touches his garment and is healed of her bleeding, and Bartimaeus healed of his blindness in Mark 10:46. “Your faith has made you well.”
In Mark 2:1-12 Jesus commends the faith of the four friends that lower the paralyzed man down from the roof. In Mark 7: 24 the Syrophoenician woman is commended for her broadened understanding of his mission and power; as a result her daughter is healed at a distance.
In other stories, belief is mentioned: the leper in Mark 1:40 believes that Jesus can heal him but acknowledges that Jesus must choose to do it for him.
Jairus, in Mark 5:21, begs Jesus to come and lay his hands on his dying daughter and make her well but has to be reminded to believe and not fear when he is told she is already dead.
The story in Mark 9:14 has a father bring a seizure-afflicted son to the disciples and they can not cure him, and when Jesus intervenes, the father says “if you can do anything” which implies dwindling belief and hope. Jesus encourages him to believe more and the father begs for help with his unbelief.
In the other healing stories, faith and belief is not mentioned directly: Mark 1:29 Simon’s mother-in-law; Mark 1:32 the crowds gathered after Sabbath; Mark 3:1-7 the man called forward with the withered hand; Mark 7:24 the deaf man brought to Jesus, and the blind man at Bethsaida in Mark 8:22.
Early in the days of Jesus' ministry, the word got out quickly that he was a healer and could cast out demons and spirits, but was that belief in his magical powers or recognition of his divine authority or Personhood? Seems like it was only the demons who recognized him and they had to be silenced since it was too soon to let that be widely known.
Why is learning and internalizing sacred stories and sharing them with receptive listeners helpful and worth the effort? Perhaps the teller is able to convey the universal meanings and message when it has been internalized. The story becomes a personal message for the listener when it is told from the heart…so much deeper than when simply read. The story elicits hope and hope enables insight and activates growth and healing. Exactly how this works is a mystery, but it may help. And always, the story assures us that God is with us and hears, no matter what.
Questions for discussion:
What is the difference between miracles and magic?
What is the difference between healing and curing?
What is the difference between faith and belief?