On a few occasions, as Jesus heals, he tells people their faith has made them well. A woman with a hemorrhage for twelve years touches the fringe of his garment and is healed. Bartimaeus, who is blind, is given his sight. One of ten lepers who are healed returns to give thanks to Jesus. The faith of each of these people is mentioned by Jesus in conjunction with their healing.
Many more examples of healing are told by the gospel writers with no mention of faith. Simon Peter’s mother-in-law is healed of a high fever. A paralytic is enabled to walk. A man with a withered hand is healed in the synagogue. A man among the Gerasenes, possessed by demons, is healed. The daughter of a leader of the synagogue, thought to be dead, is made well. A deaf man is given his hearing. These and countless others in the gospel accounts are healed by Jesus with no allusion made to their faith.
What part does faith play in healing? Just what portion of what we receive from God depends on our faith?
To hear some talk, it would seem like everything depends on our faith. Faith, in our zeal to get others to see what we have seen, is sometimes made out to be some secret and super power that we must enact in order for anything good to occur. Only those who believe are saved…. Well, yes, that makes some sense. Those who want no part of God’s kingdom don’t seem to be forced into it. But is our belief, our faith, our sense of trust, like some magical password that opens the on-line account of grace? Is there some certain something that some folks do that is rewarded while the rest of creation is left wondering how they are less fortunate? It’s easy to listen to some gospel proclaimers and hear that only those who believe or trust in the right way have any chance of acceptance by God.
In answer to that, we probably need to recognize that our faith has absolutely nothing to do with God’s decision to heal, or save, or renew the face of creation. God heals, saves, renews, because God has decided to do that. We’re not the cause of that, merely the recipient of God’s gifts. Faith, we must acknowledge from the start, is not the secret ingredient to life. Grace saves us, not faith.
But that’s not the end of the story, is it? Faith, while it might not be the cause of anything, sure seems integral to the Christian journey. Things sure flow better when we are trusting rather than fighting against grace. Faith doesn’t cause anything but it helps us see what God is up to in his saving deeds.
We are saved by grace, but often through faith. God works in spite of us in this world, yet when we work with God, it does seem that all things are possible. Grimness is turned into a lighter joy. When we trust that this moment is one that is in God’s ultimate plan for us and all of creation, then this moment is truly transformed.
Faith, it can’t really even be said, opens the window of grace. God opens the window as part of his loving gesture. Faith senses the fresh air blowing through the window and begins to imagine what that fresh air might bring about. Faith is simply knowing the fresh air has touched us and beginning to hope for what all might be made new.
Faith often begins with non-faith, with wanting something more in life, with not presently having what we need. We yearn for something more. That’s the first step of faith, as it turns out. That hunger, that longing, that realization that things aren’t just fine the way we are, gets us paying attention. Then we begin to see that grace and healing are occurring, that things are working out around us, even though we’re not doing anything to help the process along. Then we jump, or ease, into the small hope that is given to us. Maybe that’s what Jesus is commenting on when he says the faith of those few folks has made them well. Maybe he’s encouraging them for taking that first step and assuring them the path ahead is one well planned.
Faith might not be the road we walk in our Christian journey, but it could be the steps we find ourselves taking. Faith isn’t always knowing what lies ahead. Usually it has more to do with stepping out not knowing what lies ahead. Then we are caught up in the salvation act of Christ and we come to trust that knowing the way isn’t all that important. We come to trust that God knows the way and that is enough.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.