Healing in the Gospel of Mark
The Gospel of Mark is full of miraculous healings. According to Tony Cauchi in “Healing in the Gospels,”  forty-one separate healing stories are scattered throughout the four gospels, and Mark tells eighteen of them. In each story, Jesus uses a touch or a word or even a bit of saliva to transform the broken and injured, the possessed and the infirm, even the very dead, into whole, vibrant, alive, and faithful individuals.
The complete faith that fills those whose bodies and minds have been healed of disease is perhaps the most important part of each tale. Mark contrasts that faith with the ignorance and doubt of the disciples. This is clear in some of the healing stories.
In Mark 8, Jesus feeds four thousand people with seven loaves of bread and a few small fish (Mark 8:4-9). Although they are involved in this miracle, the disciples don’t get it. While back on their boat, they discover they have only one loaf of bread with which to feed themselves. How will they all eat?
Jesus rebukes them“Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear?” (Mark 8:17-18).
They are not unlike the Pharisees who earlier demanded Jesus prove himself by a sign (Mark 8:11). We don’t believe in miracles, unless perhaps they happen to us, and even then we don’t always understand. We certainly don’t know how to perform those miracles.
The Faith that Heals
In the next chapter of Mark, we are introduced to a boy who has seizures. His father has brought the child to the disciples to heal, but they can’t do anything. Annoyed, Jesus asks the boy to be brought to him. The father says to Jesus, “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.”
This, too, annoys Jesus. “If I am able! All things can be done for one who believes.”
So the father cries out that he believes, and Jesus heals the boy (Mark 9:14-29).
Not long after that, a blind man begs Jesus to give him sight. “Go,” says Jesus, “your faith has made you well.”
Immediately, the man could see again.
This is the faith that can move mountains. Surely, our minds are powerful, as the placebo effect proves.
How Long Does Healing Last?
According to the gospels, the healings Jesus performed are miracles. Perhaps they were. I know that even today, some medical cures seem miraculous, and sometimes people feel touched by a loving grace that changes their lives.
But do such healings last? Did the blindness return, the child seizure again? Those whom Jesus raised from the dead, did they not eventually die for good? Cancer sometimes comes back. Those moments of enlightenment, when we understand grace or oneness or eternity, fade. Sometimes doubt returns.
Were these moments not real?
Addiction and Temporary Healing
In my work with addicts, I have seen healing that seems to make a long-term difference and healing that does not. I think, for instance, of a young man I’ll call John in honor of that saint who understood about darkness, emptiness, and despair.
John was addicted to heroin, in love with a drug that never let him down. Until it did. Perhaps it happened all of a sudden, or maybe the high gradually petered out. Regardless, he no longer enjoyed the drug, yet he felt trapped in this cycle of seeking and shooting by a desperate and despairing fear of pain. Detoxing from heroin is miserable, and an addict will do almost anything to avoid that misery. Although John had lost his veins, his mind, part of his soul, and almost his life, he continued to seek and use the drug.
Then a healing touched him. As he told the story, God spoke to him and he felt scoured with a love so painful it cracked him open. He knew he could no longer destroy himself with drugs, so he sought treatment. Like most of the addicts who come to treatment, he felt vulnerable and desperate to change his life.
That is a tender and temporary moment. We can’t keep people in that place of humility and despair. As their bodies recover, so do their spirits. They joke and laugh and forget.
Relapse from Recovery
John was like that. He came in speaking of God. He said God lived in his heart, that the healing had changed him, and he would never return to his old ways. About a week later, I knew he’d forgotten.
“What happened?” I asked him. “You’re different.”
He shrugged, perhaps uncertain himself.
“Where is God?” I said, hoping to remind him.
“He’s still there,” John told me, but he stared off over my shoulder, his eyes distant.
Later that day, he came to tell me good-bye, his bags packed. He was leaving the unit early. Neither of us pretended he even planned to stay clean and sober. Love had touched him, brought him into treatment, but not even love could make him stay. The healing doesn’t always last.
As I later learned, he used again in his friend’s car as they drove away.
Does that mean the healing wasn’t real? I don’t think so.
When Jesus told the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11), does that mean she never craved the comfort of a man other than her husband, that she never betrayed herself by saying “yes” when she meant “no,” that she never sinned again?
We don’t know, of course, but my experience leads me to doubt it.
Maybe the problem is that we expect more from healing than we do from cure. When we attempt to stop the course of disease – pneumonia, cancer, heart failure – we talk of killing bacteria, fighting aberrant cells, and forcing arteries open with machines and medicines. This is cure, and it’s not certain nor eternal, either. People get sick again, cancer returns, hearts eventually stop beating, no matter how many surgeries we have or how much medicine we take.
Healing is something altogether different.
How Jesus Healed
In a previous column, I mentioned the healing of the man from Gerasene. He was mad, infested with a legion of demons. No one could help him until Jesus sent the legion from his mind.
In his book, Faithful Change, James W. Fowler suggests that these many demons were separate personalities formed by the horrible and extended abuse the man must have endured during childhood. This is dissociative identity disorder (DID), when a new personality splits off in an attempt to hold unendurable trauma.
DID can be healed. It takes time, trust, and the reintegration of the split-off parts of the self who must first be identified.
To heal the demoniac, Jesus used compassion and complete acceptance. He saw into the man’s very being, recognized the demons for what they were, and in the warmth and grace of his love, this shattered individual was able to reintegrate and become whole. By being fully seen and fully cared for, the man found a healing of heart and soul.
We Are Still Ourselves
Was the demoniac forever healed? Who knows? Moments of spiritual insight, of secrets unlocked, change our lives forever, at least in some small way. Yet whether we are healed by gods or by years of therapy or by a sudden enlightenment, we are still ourselves. We still eat and shower and sleep and complain. The man from Gerasene probably had difficult moments, times when fears returned or voices taunted him. Addicts relapse. That doesn’t take away from the value and the truth of the healing. Even when we feel broken and alone, we are whole.
Over and over in the gospels, Jesus touches, prays, commands, and heals. About these people whom Jesus heals, Fowler writes that “Jesus offers a quality of really seeing each of these persons and conveying such acceptance and regard that they find a new relation to him, to God, and to the communities of which they are a part.”  He contrasts this with Nietzsche who, as a child, had no one to see him, to listen to him, to care about him. No one delighted in who he was or even accepted him for being himself. In response, he grew hard and cold, disdaining weakness and vulnerability. According to Fowler, Nietzsche felt threatened by the grace that Christianity promised. 
Healing Broken Hearts
How do you heal such a broken heart? I believe the Pharisees represent such shame-filled and angry individuals, those whom not even Jesus could touch.
Perhaps the addict, John, was such a person. God touched him, and he felt different for a little while, but maybe he did not fully take in the blinding acceptance and love he was offered. If he had fully embraced it, would he have made different choices? Would he have sustained his recovery?
I like to think that something of grace remained, even though John relapsed. When he came to say good-bye to me, he said, “Thank you for showing me that some people really do care.”
Is it possible that one day, John will remember that someone cared? Might that memory be enough to bring him back to recovery?
Listening and Seeing
Jesus showed grace, mercy, and acceptance. How do we do that for one another?
There are many valuable therapeutic techniques and methods. I find they make a big difference in a person’s overall emotional and spiritual health. Essential to all of them, however, is what Fowler points to: listening, seeing, accepting.
To truly listen to one another, we must still our chattering minds. We must look at and see and care about the person in front of us. Learning to listen in this way takes time, yet we can do it.
Jesus had the capacity to be still, silent, and open. He had a depth of vision that allowed him to see into a person’s heart and mind. He didn’t pretend the person was perfect or had done no wrong. To pretend in this way, to discount the evils a person has committed, is its own kind of abuse. Jesus saw the sin, named it, and loved the person, anyway.
Such acceptance and love is life changing.
We have the capacity to love and accept one another. Perhaps we cannot do it so gracefully or wisely as Jesus did. Yet we can learn to still our minds, to pay attention, to hear and see and know in a deep way, and to believe in a person’s ability to grow and change. This is how we heal one another.
In faith and fondness,
- Cauchi, Tony, “Healing in the Gospels,” The Voice of Healing, Revival Library, 2011, http://voiceofhealing.info/02history/gospels.html, accessed Fevruary 2, 2018.
- Fowler, James, Faithful Change: The Personal and Public Challenges of Postmodern Life, Nashville: Abingdon, 1996, 144.
- Ibid 144.