I am always taken by the healing stories of Christ. I find them fascinating. Having grown up very close to doctors and nurses in those key childhood years of 9 to 16, I had a great respect and admiration for them. I knew their frustration, especially in a case like mine that all the solutions seemed to eventually fail. But even with the continued trials, I marveled at the way they fought and struggled to find the right answer and to follow their call to heal above everything else.
To be a healer, in most societies, is to be close to God. In almost every type of community from the earliest evidence of human kind, the Spiritual leaders were also the “doctors” of the community. In fact, many will say Leviticus is more of a medical textbook than a book of laws. That can be debated, but what can’t is the example it gives to the comingling of personal, community, and spiritual health, all of which were overseen by the priestly class. They controlled the writings and their interpretation. This was can be tracked in the later writings where we see how people come to the judges or kings, prophets or other religious leaders to find healing. So it would not be a big surprise that a key component to Christ’s ministry would be healing.
The healing that Christ did served two purposes. First, it aligned him with the tradition of those who healed being “closer” to God. We still do this, though most doctors are not paid like they once were, there is a high respect and moral understanding a doctor speaks to. My colleages and I often remark at the number of times people come to a pastor to seek medical advice. By the way, most of the time we answer, “go see your doctor!” (There is a class on that in seminary!) The importance of the link between healer and spiritual leader is crucial. It points to the role of Christ within the community as well as the relationship he had to the establishment which he was not part of because he was not born of that class.
The second purpose is like the first, but has to do with how his healing was different than the healings of other religious leaders. While the Bible makes a point of the ease at which he heals, it also expresses that he is able to heal things others could not. We know he was able to do this through his divinity, but it became obvious to the other leaders that he was healing people differently than what had been prescribed. Even in the difference, he was still not only able to find success, but was able to succeed where other healers had failed.
This success was also threatening, not only because he was of a different class, but also because of the success and real power that came from that success. Talk to any oncologist and they will let you know how frustrating it can be not to be able to heal and how many would like to be able to have the power of Christ. In talking to one of my friends in that field they tell me stories of frustration at how quickly some patients change doctors because they think they have found God, a doctor that seems to have unusual success, only to come back in worse shape than before. The truth that they know is that as doctors they have skills and knowledge that can get them so far, but the rest, that depends on their faith and the faith of the one they are healing.
But there is even more! When you get to the stories of healing that Christ does during his teaching years, the healings all have a temporary nature to them. Even the stories of bringing people back to life, that person will still die one day. But often his words, your faith has made you well, has more to do not with the overcoming of the impediment or illness in this world, but the connection and wholeness that comes from God in the next.
As a healer, there was no denying his role as a faith leader, something both the Bible and parallel Jewish writings recognize. It establishes Christ’s role in the community but also points to something more. He is not like the doctors or spiritual leaders of this world. He is more and can help us to recognize that there is more to this life than what we have right now. Most of all, he shows that we can be made whole through faith!
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen