Jesus and Disease
(Mark 5:21-43; Mt. 9:18-26)
The best way to learn about the healing ministry of Jesus is to examine several instances in which he actually heals someone. Rather than begin with an abstract theological model of divine healing, I want to begin with the concrete activity of healing that emerged in the routine of his daily life.
Mark 5:21-43 (Mt. 9:18-26)
This "synagogue official" was a man of great importance who had been elected from among the elders of Israel. He supervised activities in the synagogue and was responsible for the external order in public worship. Here we see several things about him:
He is courteous - He "fell" at Jesus' feet (not necessarily as an act of worship, but certainly in humility)
He is courageous - Leaders in the synagogue were Jesus' most bitter enemies. He was risking their ridicule and perhaps expulsion from his position for approaching Jesus.
He is compassionate - The term "my little daughter" is one of endearment and affection. Luke 8:42 indicates she was his only child.
He is confident - He is confident that Jesus can do what no one else can do. He does not believe Jesus is handicapped even by death.
Then something happened that, as far as Jairus was concerned, was inexcusable and potentially disastrous. In the course of their journey, with the little girl's hanging by a thread, Jesus stops. He pauses to attend to a matter of far less urgency. At first glance it seems baffling that he should do so.
The woman is anonymous, although Greek tradition has given her the name "Bernice", while the Latin tradition named her "Veronica". Some say she was Martha, Lazarus' sister.
She suffered from a chronic uterine hemorrhage. See esp. Lev. 15:25-33 for the religious and social consequences of her affliction. Her efforts to find a cure had proved disastrous:
she had endured much - lit., "suffered much"
it had cost her everything she had - no insurance coverage in the first century
she had not been helped at all - she was, no doubt, discouraged and disillusioned
she had actually grown worse - their treatment of her had only aggravated the problem. There are 11 treatments for this ailment mentioned in the Talmud, among which were:
carry the ashes of an ostrich egg in a linen bag in the summer and in a cotton bag in the winter; drink wine mixed with a powder made from rubber, along with alum and garden herbs; eat Persian onions cooked in wine while someone says: "Arise out of your flow of blood!" It was even recommended that one carry around a barleycorn kernel found in the dung of a while female donkey!
Her faith may have been mixed with superstition: she evidently embraced the ancient belief that the dignity and power of a man could be transferred to what he wore. On the other hand, perhaps her decision to approach Jesus from behind and only touch his garments instead of address him directly was as much due to sensitivity as to superstition. Perhaps her motivation was not render him ceremonially unclean or in any way embarrass him.
Jewish men wore woolen tassels sewn on the four corners of their outer cloak (Num. 15:37-41).
Several things are worthy of note:
1) She was able to feel the power of Jesus and instantly knew she had been healed.
2) Jesus was able to feel healing power depart or go out from himself.
3) Evidently power went forth from Jesus independently of his own knowledge and will. According to v. 31, many in the crowd were touching him ("pressing in"). Certainly not everyone who merely came into casual physical contact with Jesus was healed. Why was only this woman the recipient of divine power? The answer seems to be that the Father sovereignly acted through His Son to bestow this blessing.
The disciples are impatient, perhaps even perturbed. After all, a little girl's life is hanging in the balance; time is of the essence. It seems pointless, even ridiculous, that Jesus should be concerned about one person who touched his tassel when he was being jostled by an entire crowd. They reply, "What do you mean, 'who touched me?' Everybody touched you!" But Jesus knows the difference between casual contact and a touch motivated by desperation and faith. There is touching, and then there is touching!
Cf. Mark 3:10; 6:56; Luke 6:19
She was paralyzed by fear: fear that she might lose the healing her body had just experienced; fear that Jesus might publicly rebuke her and embarrass her; fear of the consequences for having rendered him ceremonially unclean.
In Mt. 9:22 he tells her to "take courage". He is both tender and sensitive to her fears. He does not mention her affliction, lest she be exposed to public embarrassment. And he compliments her faith (see v. 28), to which he attributes her "healing". The Greek word for "healing" is iaomai (v. 29). Luke uses therapeuo (8:43). But three times in Matthew's account and here in Mark 5:34 sozo ("to save") is used. Her healing was more than physical, hence his words, "go in peace" [with God].
"The father could have been tempted to be resentful of Jesus' lingering with this semisick but living woman when he had a dying daughter with whom Jesus had a prior appointment. Jesus instantly intercedes: 'Don't be afraid; only believe'. Jesus places his arms underneath the falling father to pick him up; Jesus instantly and pastorally supports the father's sinking faith by telling him not to do that which faith is constantly in danger of doing in the light of realities: to fear . . . . Jesus makes the man's responsibility simple: 'Just sustain the courage that brought you to me in the first place; believe that I am able to attack death as well from the rear as from the front, after its effects as easily as before. Just believe me: I will not let you down'" (345).
Mourning was expressed in three forms: (1) rending of one's garments (over the heart; revealing the skin; a hole big enough for a hand to be inserted; left open for 7 days; for the next 30 days it could be loosely stitched, but still noticeable); (2) wailing (incessant, loud crying; often professional women were hired to perform this ritual; they formed a circle around the leader who performed a death dance; they move rhythmically left to right with their hair hanging down, noisily crying and reciting aloud the names of other relatives who had recently died); (3) flute players (poor people were required to hire no more than two, whereas the rich would have as many as ten).
Was she really dead or only unconscious, perhaps in a coma? She was dead: (1) Luke 8:53 (they laughed, "knowing that she had died"); (2) Luke 8:55 ("her spirit returned to her"); (3) their amazement in v. 42 is otherwise inexplicable; they had seen greater miracles than merely waking up a girl from an unconscious state; (4) "sleep" is a euphemism for death (cf. Jn. 11:11). For those who trust in Jesus, death is no more traumatic nor final than falling asleep. Therefore, her death, though real, was not final or permanent. "Yes, she's dead, but not as you perceive death." In the presence of Jesus, death has lost its sting and has been stripped of its power.
If Jesus had been a showman he would have challenged them to come into the room, saying: "I'll show you! Just look!" But for Jesus, healing is not a show or advertisement. It is a ministry.
Five concluding observations:
1) Note his impartiality and humility. He was neither puffed up by the fact that a leading religious figure sought out his help, nor was he offended when approached by a social and religious outcast.
2) Delays are not always denials. To Jairus and the disciples, Jesus' delay was catastrophic. How could he be so calloused and uncaring? Has he no sense of priority? But everything was unfolding according to a divine plan. Sometimes God deliberately permits a tragedy to occur in order that even greater triumph might emerge. See John 11:1-6. There are no unredeemable accidents. With God, it is never "too late".
3) Note the role of faith. In the case of both Jairus and the woman, faith is directed toward Jesus and is an expression of need. Question: What is it that Jairus and the woman believed about Jesus that accounts for these remarkable results?
In Mt. 9:28-29 Jesus asks only if they believe he is able to heal them (cf. Mt. 8:1-3). "Yes, Jesus, I believe you are able to heal me" is the kind of faith that pleases him. Jesus says to the two blind men: "Be it done according to your faith." As Carson explains,
"This cannot mean that the miracle would be executed 'in proportion' to their faith -- as if Jesus were saying, 'So much faith, so much sight; 50 percent faith, 50 percent sight. Believe wholly and 20/20 vision will be restored to you.' The 'according to' language does not deal with proportionality here, but with factuality: in line with your faith, which believes I can restore your sight, let your sight be restored" (100).
See Mark 9:22-24. Why did Jesus emphasize faith? Neither he nor his Father need it. They are not hampered or hindered by the faithlessness or prayerlessness of either the disciples or this man. The reason is this: faith glorifies God. Faith points us away from ourselves to Him. Faith turns us away from our own power and resources to His. Faith says, "Lord, I am nothing and you are everything. I entrust myself to your care. I cling tenaciously to you alone. My confidence is in your word and character no matter what happens." Faith is not a weapon by which we demand things from God or put him in subjection to us. Faith is an act of self-denial. Faith is a renunciation of one's ability to do anything and a confession that God can do everything.
Faith derives its power not from the spiritual energy of the person who believes, but from the supernatural efficacy of the person who is believed: God! It is not faith's act but its object that accounts for the miraculous.
4) Aside from the raising of Lazarus from the dead, there is not a single instance in the gospels where Jesus directly prays for the healing of the sick. Whereas prayer certainly occurs before ministering to the sick, the sick themselves are never prayed for. Rather, the dead are commanded to rise (Mk. 5:41-42; Lk. 7:14-15; Jn. 11:43-44), the lame are commanded to get up (Jn. 5:8-9; Mk. 2:11), the man with the shriveled hand is commanded to stretch it out (Mt. 12:9-13), the ears of the deaf mute are commanded to be opened (Mk. 7:31-35), the leper is commanded to be cleansed (Mt. 8:1-3), and before healing the crippled woman Jesus announces to her, "woman, you are set free from your infirmity" (Lk. 13:10-16).
5) These healings, like countless others, were motivated by our Lord's compassion. See Mt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; Mark 1:41; 9:22; Lk. 7:13-15. That compassion and not fame was his motivation is evident from his instructions in Mk. 5:43 that no one be told what had happened. In other words, he didn't do it to draw attention to himself, but because he cared deeply for the grief of the family.
"Compassion" (splanchna; splanchnizomai) = lit., inward parts, entrails, bowels (heart, liver, spleen, kidneys, intestines; also used of the sexual organs, but especially of the womb). It came to be applied to one's deepest feelings, inward emotions, passions, etc.
Here we see the anger and righteous indignation of Jesus vented at full throttle. His rage at the self-serving hypocrisy of those who should have been helping the people finds expression in a physical outburst comparable to a bouncer in a bar! He grabs them by the scruff of the neck, kicks them in the seat of their pants (I'm taking some literary license here!) and runs them out of the temple. In a few days Jesus will permit men to lay hands on him and bind him and take him captive and eventually nail him to a cross. But on this occasion they are powerless against him, stunned with fear, frozen in awe and wonder.
This is hardly the context or atmosphere in which one would expect to see compassion or mercy. Indeed, it is difficult for us to understand how anyone can consistently be both enraged and compassionate at the same time. But note what happens next: "And the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them" (v. 14). Joni Eareckson Tada responds:
"Does that hit you the way it hit me? The Lord's angry shouts were still echoing from the temple walls. The dove salesmen were still scuttling away down the alleys like frightened rats. Coins were still rolling around on the pavement. But our Lord doesn't miss a beat. He immediately turns his attention to the blind and lame -- releasing them from their physical bondage" (139).
William Hendricksen is also helpful:
"What a scene! While some people are expelled others are welcomed. Jesus has not changed any. He is still the Good Shepherd. So when the blind and the lame come to him right here, in the temple, his eyes, a moment ago flashing with the fire of holy indignation, fill with tender compassion. He did not say, 'Come back some other time. I am not now in the mood for healing you.' On the contrary, the Great Physician is standing there in the midst of overturned tables, scattered coins, and knocked down benches, manifesting his healing power and marvelous compassion to those in need. None of those who came to him went away disappointed" (Matthew, 771).
Jesus cares compassionately for those who are no more than a meddling inconvenience to others. These broken, crippled, handicapped folk must have been hanging around the temple for years, perhaps begging as did the man born lame in Acts 3. Nobody paid them any attention. They were, at best, an eyesore, an embarrassment to the religious establishment. Yet, as Joni points out,
"Jesus, the Son of God, stops right in the middle of bringing down divine judgment on that place, sets aside His anger, and shows tender compassion to that little band of forgotten 'nobodies.' In the midst of revealing His power and judgment, Jesus paused to display His compassion. That, to me, is a stunning sketch of our Lord and Savior. And it's one of many in Scripture.
We see His greatness complemented by His goodness.
We see His holiness contrasted by His mercy.
We see His tremendous power balanced by His tenderness and gentleness.
There is no room in Scripture for a one-sided view of our Lord. He points an angry, righteous finger at the hypocrites on one hand, yet reaches down to gently touch the need of the lowly with the other. He turns a face as hard as steel to the religious phonies yet smiles encouragement at those who reach to Him in simple faith."