Faith is an important theme in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus entered Galilee announcing that the kingdom of God was at hand. Listeners were encouraged to repent and believe the good news (1.14-15). I think this statement represents the starting point for faith. It is the conviction that the Creator God has entered the world in a new way through Jesus. The healing stories help us to understand God’s intention to bring wholeness to all areas of life. As we journey with Jesus, we also learn that the healing of the world requires suffering and death on the cross. Additionally, his followers are called to walk in the way of the cross.
Faith precedes healing in several passages (2.1-12; 5.21-43; 7.24-30; 9.14-29; 10.46-52). We can also say that faith is implicit, although not specifically mentioned, in other stories and summary passages. Think of the leper in Mark 1 who breaks the purity code and falls on his knees before Jesus. It is important to observe the extreme need of those who seek Jesus’s healing power and their intuition that he is their only hope. This is exemplified in the account of the woman with a vaginal flow of blood in Mark 5. She has spent all her savings on physicians that offered no help. She is convinced that she will be healed if only she touches his garment. Jesus stops to listen to her story. He affectionately calls her his daughter. He tells her that her faith has saved her. Here we see that salvation is related to our wholeness in this life and beyond into eternity.
Two other passages merit comment. Jesus returns to his hometown in Mark 6. The villagers denigrate the local boy whose family still lives nearby. Jesus marvels at their unbelief and is unable to do mighty works apart from healing a few sick people. This story suggests that people’s faith gave Jesus a space in which to operate with God’s power. Conversely, the lack of faith placed limits on his mission of healing. I am reminded of a comment attributed to Phil Yancey: “God does not go where he is not wanted.”
In Mark 11, Jesus speaks about faith that can move mountains. This statement, on its own, might be interpreted to mean that miracles are possible provided that there is sufficient faith. The corollary is, of course, that the lack of miracles, including healings, indicates that the threshold of faith has not been achieved. We blame victims for being stuck in their need.
We need to be reminded that Jesus earnestly prayed that the cross would be removed from his vocation. In the garden of Gethsemane, he was strengthened to face death but faith did not give him a “pass.” In alignment with their master, faifIthful disciples will be betrayed by their closest loved ones, face persecutions, endure hardships, and be brought before hostile authorities. Faith does not get us what we might want. Faith brings us into communion with the Father to whom we belong even as we go through periods of suffering and brokenness.
I wish to make two final comments. God responds to people that desperately recognize their need for grace and healing. Too often our congregations have demanded an approved doctrinal statement for inclusion rather than the deep recognition that our lives are broken and wounded apart from God’s healing. Christians, in North America, are often middle class professionals at home in the world of ideas. There are people on the margins who will come to us demonstrating their faith by expressing an urgent need for God. Some of their actions will be as unwelcome as the digging through a roof to bring a friend to Jesus. Will we make room for these people in our fellowships? Will we start where God meets them in their needs and lead them into the deeper faith of being followers?
The story points to the role of friends and family that desire to see the healing and restoration of loved ones. The gospel narrative encourages us to pray faithfully for these people and to find compassionate ways to bring them to the God of grace and new beginnings.