Click here for a print-friendly version
Healed by Faith
Summer Quarter: Confident Hope
Unit 1: Jesus Teaches About Faith
Sunday school lesson for the week of June 20, 2021
By Dr. Jay Harris
Lesson Scripture: Matthew 9:18-26
Healing and Faith
Today’s subject is healed by faith. We’re not just looking at healing. We’re giving attention to where healing meets faith. Furthermore, how does this particular experience of faith contribute to our understanding of confident hope? When we suffer from sickness and disease, it reveals to us just how connected our mind, body, soul, and emotions are to each other. What happens to one affects the other. God, above all, knows this. It is not hard to understand how Jesus would be involved in a ministry involving healing and deliverance from death-dealing forces in our lives.
It is important to understand, too, that Jesus’ healing is more than about how we feel (although how we feel is very important). Sickness, disease, and death are features of a fallen world. Jesus taught that it is misguided to attempt to trace the cause of people’s diseases or physical defects to their own particular sins or the sins of their parents (John 9:3). That being said, it is
appropriate to understand death and suffering as fixtures of a fallen world. Jesus, in both his teachings and his healing ministry, points to the dismantling of this fallen world and the coming of a new world where God will wipe every tear, death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the former things will have passed away (Revelation 21:4). Every healing is therefore a sign of the passing of a diseased world and the completion of God’s kingdom in the future where God’s ideal will reign completely, and God will be ‘all in all’ (1 Corinthians 15:28). Meanwhile, we live in this “in-between time,” and how our faith comes up against these experiences of sickness, disease, and death is vitally important. It is as if these experiences present a battlefield, and God’s desire is that we emerge victorious – “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37). So, prepare to learn all we can from this scripture about healing faith.
A father is brought to his knees
“While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’ And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.
Jairus was a leader in the synagogue, which means he was someone of some standing in the community. He probably would have known that Jesus was a controversial figure in the eyes of the religious establishment. None of that mattered, however, when his daughter fell ill and died. She had just died, and this father was on his knees. He brushed aside the controversy and his standing in the religious community and he chose to believe that the reports of Jesus and his power to heal were true. By kneeling before Jesus, he was humbling himself and believing that Jesus would be moved by a father’s love for his daughter. Notice all that is involved in this father’s expression of faith. Remember how important one’s expression of faith is to Jesus.
A story interrupted by another story
“Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak.
Today’s scripture lesson is unique because it tells about not one, but two events. Event number one begins, but while it is unfolding, event number two begins, interrupting event number one. After event number two concludes, event number one resumes. Both stories are powerful in their own right, but because they are so intertwined, we notice even more the parallels, the intersections, and the distinctions that make them different and unique.
These intertwined stories are found also in Mark (5:21-43) and Luke (8:40-56). Matthew’s version is the shortest version with nine verses. Luke tells the story in 17 verses. Mark provides the most details in 23 verses.
We want to pay attention to the kinds of faith demonstrated in these stories. Jairus desired healing for his daughter, and the woman in the second healing story desired healing for herself. In the first story, it is the faith of Jairus, on behalf of his daughter, that we are examining, and in the second story it is the faith of the woman that we are examining. We’re told in Mark’s gospel that the daughter of Jairus was 12 years old; when this young girl was born, the chronic suffering of the woman in the second story was just beginning.
She suffered from a hemorrhaging condition. Not only would she have suffered from the hemorrhaging itself, she would have also suffered from social isolation. Leviticus 15:25 says, “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity [menstruation], or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean.” The understanding was that anyone with whom she came into contact would become unclean. Imagine having to limit your human contact to this degree. We have some understanding of that due to the pandemic we have been living through. Imagine, however, everyone else getting to enjoy human contact, but not you.
Naturally, we would feel an enormous amount of sympathy for this woman. The woman had obviously concluded that this man, Jesus, had the ability to heal her. She had faith in the power and compassion of Jesus to heal. There existed, however, this barrier to her healing. How could she go out to Jesus without bringing attention to herself and her uncleanness? For 12 years she had made a point not to be seen touching others.
This is where her faith takes on its unique texture in this woman’s life and situation. Her faith is called to devise a way. Her faith requires ingenuity. Her faith tells her just how much contact is needed: “for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’
” Just touching the fringe of Jesus’ garment will do. What a testimony of faith! She does not have to bring attention to herself. She does not even need Jesus’ attention. Her faith tells her that a making a verbal request to Jesus is not needed because that too would bring unwanted attention. Moving through a crowd of people would work in her favor. She could come up behind Jesus and touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak with Jesus’ back turned to her. Jesus can heal her, and no one need ever know.
It worked, and it did not work. She did not escape Jesus’ notice. “Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well.
” According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus felt the power of healing go out from him. That’s how he knew someone had touched him in the way the woman touched him. Lots of people were touching him because of the pressing crowd, but the woman touched him, believing in a healing, and it felt different to Jesus. Jesus turned on the spot, looked into her face, told her to take heart, acknowledged her as a daughter in the human family, and acknowledged the presence of her faith and its role in her healing. Can’t you imagine all of her apprehension melting away? She was healed from a 12-year malady and brought back into normal relations with her community.
Immediately, the story turns back to event number one. “When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, ‘Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this spread throughout that district.
The flute players had already begun the funeral dirge, but Jesus treated the situation as if the girl had simply been asleep. All he needed to do was take her by the hand, and she got up. This same sort of interchangeable use of the word “sleep” and “death” occurred just before Jesus raised Lazarus (John 11:11-14).
This use of the word “sleep” for those who die in the Lord also found its way into the letters of the New Testament. More than one church crib nursery has been adorned with a plaque with the words from 1 Corinthians 15:51, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” In the context of a church nursery, there is the obvious pun involved, where “sleep” means nap, and “be changed” refers to a diaper change. All kidding aside, the verse in 1 Corinthians means that not all shall sleep before the Lord returns. In other words, some will have died before the Lord returns, but some will still be alive. Some will have fallen asleep and some will not yet have fallen asleep, but all shall be transformed at the Lord’s return. “Sleep” is the temporary condition of those who die in the Lord here on earth and then are awakened on the other side. This is a reminder to me that the healing that occurs through death and resurrection is the ultimate healing for believers.
Notice in these two stories of healing how the unique characters, the unique circumstances, and Jesus’ action shape what happens. They uniquely shape a faith response of the person who desperately needs and desires healing. Think of the circumstances and the faith response of the person who is requesting healing as the raw materials God uses in the healing story. God, who is sovereign, is absolutely free to work with these raw materials in any way God chooses. God, however, does work through our circumstances, our faith, our prayers, our family and friends, and our faith community. God will use the situation, not only to bring our healing in some special way, but also to grow our faith, grow our testimony, grow our witness, and grow our relationship with God. We learn so much about the providence of God and how God answers prayer.
A healing testimony
My wife, Kay, and I were invited to a black-tie event at Phoebe Putney Hospital in Albany, Georgia. Albany is our hometown, but we had not lived there for 24 years. Although Kay was a registered nurse, it still felt strange to be invited to this event where so many prominent figures in the medical community would be gathered. It was the naming ceremony of the new Phillip Roberts Cancer Pavilion. Various members of the medical community made speeches telling the story of how Dr. Roberts left a prestigious research fellowship at Harvard in 1980 to come to Albany to practice in a large underserved area in the treatment of cancer. When he came, there were no practicing medical oncologists serving in southwest Georgia south of Macon. The surgeons were the only ones practicing oncology before he came. He knew of Albany because he had spent summers as a boy visiting his grandparents in southwest Georgia. After the introductory speeches, the rather soft-spoken Dr. Roberts started his speech. He said, “My story begins with an 18-year-old girl who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.” That girl was Kay. I was her boyfriend then and still in high school. He talked about his tiny office then with his wife serving as the nurse and receptionist, and described the treatment of Kay’s stage-four cancer. He had moved to Albany only one month before Kay went to have the tumor checked that she felt growing between her neck and shoulder.
That is how her healing story began. When Kay was diagnosed, she had her church and my church, as well as many friends and family members praying for her. When the prayers started, that was when our MYF counselors, Bob and Becky Lee, told Kay that Bob had just been treated less than a year before for the same disease in Atlanta. He was able to walk with her through her experience, helping her understand what would be coming. As Kay went through two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, we were told how important it is to have confidence and a hopeful attitude. One’s mental and emotional strength contribute immeasurably to the body’s strength through the treatment. The fact that the right people were in place when Kay’s journey began was a sign that God was guiding her journey and guiding her treatment. We will always have a bond with people, like Rob and Gayle Grotheer, Danny Key, and Cindy Autry who were there and represented the faith community supporting Kay. Kay had started dental hygiene school before she had to drop out to start her treatment. When she was able to go back to school, she made the decision to pursue nursing because of the ways God had used the medical team in her healing. Our faith, both Kay’s and mine, grew so much during this time. We grew to understand why God allows suffering, and how our faith is tested and character developed through patient endurance. We learned the variety of ways God answers our prayers. God can weave his purpose through our experience of healing.
The two stories in our scripture lesson tell two different stories of healing and faith. Just as each medical condition is unique, so are the faith responses of believers. When God’s people pray, we begin to witness the many ways God becomes involved in our journey toward healing. God uses the ministry of the Body of Christ. An important thing we note about faith is how we use faith to interpret what is happening, to help us see the evidence of God’s presence in the journey, to guide us in our experience, and ultimately to lead us to hope and God’s healing. Without faith, I don’t know how people go through the pain and uncertainty of sickness and disease. And at the end of life, we trust God to lead us through death and resurrection to our ultimate healing and our transportation to that place where God wipes away every tear, death is no more, and mourning and crying and pain are no more.
God, our Maker, the healing ministry of Jesus opens our eyes and our hearts to your healing in our lives. Bring us, with your family, to our knees in prayer, and enable us to see with the eyes of faith what happens in us and around us as we reach out to grasp you, that we may see that we are far from being alone and far from being without hope, through Jesus Christ, the Great Physician, Amen.
Dr. Jay Harris serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Ministerial Services for the South Georgia Conference. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.