Faith That Heals, Not Faith That Harms (Mark 10:45-52)

Faithfulness is showing active mercy and love.


“Go; your faith has made you well.”

Jesus says this after he heals the blind beggar Bartimaeus. What are we supposed to make of this verse?

Faith healing verses have been grossly abused. Sometimes, the idea that faith can heal has been used to shame and frighten those who most need comfort and love. Saying “if you only believe and pray hard enough” can actively harm. In the midst of a pandemic where some have opted for prayer over masks, well…

But maybe there are some ways in which faith can heal. A closer look at the context is illuminating.

“Bartimaeus” means “son of the unclean one.” Ouch. 

He calls out to Jesus as “Son of David.” There’s a lot going on there.

The one deemed “unclean” reaches out to the son of the great king, a Messianic title. So Bartimaeus, while blind, recognizes Jesus as Israel’s great hope, the one who will restore Israel to her glory and usher in the Messianic age of peace. Between the “son of the great king” and the “son of the unclean,” most people would expect there to be an insurmountable chasm. But Bartimaeus believes in himself enough to call out to Jesus. And when others try to silence him, he calls louder.

Jesus subverts expectations of cleanliness and worthiness. He is David’s ancestor not by blood but adoption; to those skeptical of the virgin birth, Jesus would have been the “unclean” one. Also, he was born in a barn. Jesus’ own cleanliness and righteousness and worthiness were rejected when he was killed as a criminal on the cross. So Jesus was in solidarity with Bartimaeus and others deemed unworthy. 

This turns ideas of “worthiness” upside-down. Injury, disability, illness… none of these are punishments for sin, and none of these make us less worthy or less loved. Jesus followed merciful, compassionate interpretations of Judaism. (Lest we read this text antisemitically, merciful interpretations of Judaism were not rare; mercy was the faith of the prophets.) 

Those who would try to say that Bartimaeus was unworthy of mercy because his blindness was punishment for sin might try to suggest that they were the faithful ones. But faithfulness isn’t limiting mercy or compassion, and it isn’t shaming others. Faithfulness is showing active mercy and love.

If faith means not giving up on yourself when things seem bleak and knowing your infinite worth even when others deny it, then faith can indeed help to heal. Jesus’ healings weren’t so much miraculous as compassionate. To use these stories judgmentally or predatorily is to get it precisely backwards. 

Do we, not just as individuals, but as a nation, treat those who are disabled or ill as if they deserve their fate? When people are denied medical care for lack of affordability, when a world of inequity prevents people from even seeking the help they need, then we haven’t learned enough from the story of Bartimaeus and Jesus. I pray one day our faith in each other drives us to replace systemic greed and apathy with systems of compassion.

The Olive

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Adam, Lindsey, and friends discuss about how to understand faith healings – and how not to – this episode of Jesus Unmasked. Join the conversation every Wednesday, live, at 11 am CT/ 9 am PT on the Raven Foundation Facebook page.