Mk 5:21-43, 2 Cor 8:7-15
July 1, 2012
What is salvation all about? I got to thinking about salvation this week as I was reading the assigned bible passages, especially the one from Mark’s Gospel, about Jesus healing Jarius’ daughter and the woman with the issue of blood. Healing has everything to do with what salvation is all about; these stories of healing are windows into the salvation God is working out for us, now and always.
I can’t say that I have anything radically new to offer. As I read about Jesus healing people and think about salvation, I have in the back of my mind the words of an old pastor and theologian, Gregory of Nazianzus, from the 4th century. For him, Jesus is God’s salvation made flesh. Gregory had a pithy way of saying this; he said, “What would not have been assumed would not have been healed.”
The point is that Jesus is how we know that God is for us, that God is on our side, one of us. In Jesus, we see how God’s wellbeing is wrapped up together with our wellbeing. In Jesus, we see how God is making us whole, drawing us into a life that is true life, not half-hearted life, not a life caught up in all the forms of anti-life around us, the forces that seek to steal, kill, and destroy what God has created for good.
That’s what these Jesus stories are all about — the salvation of God as the healing of creation, as our healing.
We catch a glimpse of this when we see the sick woman sneak her way through the crowd to Jesus. She is so low on the social ladder that we don’t even get to know her name. She is known only for her sickness, that she bleeds, uncontrollably. Such a condition would make her an outcast, someone who needs to be kept away from the rest of the people. According to the law, she is supposed to be in quarantine, banned from the public, isolated from friends and family and the rest of life. Her sickness is a condition that affects everything, from how she feels about her body to her ability to interact with others, to be a full member of a community.
She tried everything, every attempt at a cure, spending all her money. She heard news about this man Jesus. Without anyone noticing her, she breaks the law and makes her way into the crowd that follows Jesus. She has to get to him; nothing else matters. “If I but touch his clothes,” she says to herself, “I will be made well” (Mk 5:28). And when she does, Jesus feels power flow out of him, healing power, saving power, the power of restoration. When he finds her in the crowd, he says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (v. 34).
But it’s important to know that Jesus also says, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.” It’s the same word — to be made well and to be saved is the same in Greek. Health is the language of salvation. Salvation is a form of healing, the restoration of our lives, God putting back together all that has been destroyed, all that has been taken from us. Salvation is the healing of all that we have wounded.
It’s not that we are totally depraved, corrupt to the core, sinful through and through; and God finally comes into the picture and replaces the ruined old self with a new self. It’s not like our sinful self is so bad that we need to trade it in for a new model to replace it. That works for cars, but not for our lives. Salvation isn’t about trading in the old self for a new one.
Instead, salvation is about healing what God created as good, repairing what has been wounded, making well what has been corrupted by evil. Salvation is God’s healing presence — it’s the way God becomes one of us, assuming our flesh, living in solidarity with us, getting involved in our lives even when we are ashamed of what we have become, embarrassed by what has happened to us. In Jesus, we see that God doesn’t run away, instead salvation is God’s movement of drawing closer and closer to us, as a presence of healing, a force of restoration, a power of renewal. When the unnamed woman touches Jesus, she feels the power of God’s affirmation, washing over her, flowing through her, restoring her health, her well being.
“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (v. 34). This is an image of salvation, of being healed from the disease of sin, from the infection called evil, and to be invited into God’s peace.
But what counts as health, as being healthy? What does it mean to be restored to health? There are so many factors to consider, so many definitions of what a healthy body, a healthy life, looks like.
It’s easy to see what restored health looks like for the woman in the story. Her hemorrhage is healed. She no longer is in pain, nor is she required to live in isolation. Her body is no longer at odds with her life. She is restored to her people, she is able to be part of her community again.
Human well being is bound up in sharing life together, in belonging to a community, where people depend on you and you depend on others, a life where joy grows in us as we do life together, and where pain is bearable because we can carry each other’s burdens.
All of this sounds very un-American. Well being as belonging to one another, health as learning how to depend on each other—this way of talking about what is most important to us is definitely not what the 4th of July is all about. It’s called Independence Day, after all, a time to celebrate our freedom from the British, a freedom accomplished through war, independence through death, freedom from others by killing our connections with other people.
This is, obviously, a problem for us. As pacifists, we don’t believe that killing our enemies is any kind of solution, nor is the freedom achieved through death anything to brag about. Instead, we are committed to the struggle of God’s kingdom, where we look for ways to welcome God’s healing, God’s restoration, God’s salvation, as we live with our enemies, as we learn how our health is bound up with theirs, how dependencies can invite us into new possibilities for relationship, even with enemies.
I think that’s what salvation is all about. It has everything to do with the way God restores us through linking our lives together, weaving us into the kingdom of God. And even though, at times, our lives become undone, unraveled, frayed, to have faith in salvation is to trust that God will restore all things, that God will heal us, all of us, even heal us from the pain of death. That’s the hope we glimpse in the other story we heard in Mark’s Gospel — the story of Jarius and his daughter, the little girl that Jesus restores to life, resurrected. That’s the hope of salvation: resurrected life, where we are made whole again, made whole through one another, through our dependencies, made whole with all the ones who have been cut off from us by death.
This vision of salvation has everything to do with what the apostle Paul is saying in 2 Corinthians. He is telling the church in Corinth to share their money with the believers in Jerusalem, so that those who have much do not have too much, and those who have little do not have too little (2 Cor 8:15). This is what salvation looks like, it looks like one church giving to another; Christians using their money, their resources, to develop connections, to share life together even across great distances, even though they may not even know what each other looks like. Salvation is the health of the body, the whole body, as we bind ourselves together, letting God shape us through our dependencies, now and always.