“Go; your faith has made you well” (Mk. 10:52).
There are many stories of healing in Mark’s Gospel, and in a number of them faith is the operative element. When Jesus heals a paralytic early in his ministry he does so when (Mark tells us) he sees the faith of the man’s friends who have brought him (Mk. 2:5). When the woman with a hemorrhage approaches him and touches his cloak, Jesus tells her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well” (Mk. 5:34). Jesus tells the parents of a girl who has died, “Do not fear, only believe,” and raises her from the dead (Mk. 5:36). Not all the stories of healing in Mark’s Gospel mention faith, but we can assume that it is present even when not mentioned. No one would approach Jesus seeking healing without at the very least an implicit faith that he was able to help.
Our Gospel reading today is a case in point, an example of explicit faith: the healing of blind Bartimaeus. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mk. 10:47). Calling Jesus the Son of David is more than just mentioning his ma and pa, or great-great grandad: it’s a royal title that means Bartimaeus has explicit faith that Jesus is the Messiah. Faith is at the heart of the story: not only in Bartimaeus’ appeals to Jesus’ royal status and his ability to save, but also in Jesus’ own words. He heals Bartimaeus and sends him on his way, telling him “Go; your faith has made you well*” (Mk. 10:52).
Faith, however, is more than just the “secret sauce” of Jesus’ healing ministry. It’s actually the way in this life that we know God, and enter into relationship with him. Faith is also the means by which we navigate life as Christians. Then again, it’s the means by which we draw near to the destination, to life together with God.
You can know about God from reading a book or hearing the testimony of a friend, but you cannot really know God unless you have faith in God. Faith is a gift from God, as our Collect of the Day reminds us, so it’s a bit like the chicken and the egg. Faith is both the means of relationship with God and the fruit of that relationship. Belief makes the relationship possible, at the same time that it deepens relationship and leads to deeper faith. Yet only God can give the gift.
God is not looking for our faith because he is eager to gather admirers or adherents. Only a very small God would be interested in that, and our God is not small. Faith is crucial for another reason entirely. Human beings were made for faith: defined as trust in God and belief in Jesus’ power to save, extended to us in his death and resurrection. Faith makes things possible for us, the widest possible horizon, and that is what we were made for.
Bartimaeus seeks healing and so do we: healing of the sin and death that afflict us. We seek healing of our spiritual blindness, of our inability to see the reality of God’s love for us. We too cry for mercy from the Son of David because only he can save us.
Faith is also our means of navigation in this world. “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7), St. Paul tells the Church in Corinth. When we say the Nicene Creed and confess our faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we’re not talking about things that are obvious. Faith is trust in God, belief in things that are holy mysteries, the unseen things that require our faith to apprehend. Here again there is the widest possible horizon. St. Augustine wrote, “I believe in order that I may understand,” reminding us that faith is required for us to understand the world and to operate as Christians.
St. Augustine also wrote, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” If faith is the means by which we enter into relationship with God and deepen that relationship; also our means of navigating in this world; it is finally the means by which we draw near to our destination. The Apostle writes in Hebrews, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Faith points us forward to our hope as Christians, to see God and to know God as we ourselves are known by him (cf. 1 Cor. 8:3; 1 Cor. 13:12; Gal. 4:9).
Our Gospel tells us that after his healing, Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way. We can take this to mean his literal journey, or we can widen our understanding. May we like him have faith in Christ, and follow our Lord not only on the road of this life but all the way to the kingdom of God.
- The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee