Is there a difference between being cured and being healed? John Swinton thinks so. A scholar who has also served as a mental health nurse, Swinton points to someone he believes experienced both: the woman in the Bible who had a discharge of blood. Coming up to Jesus in a crowd, she touches the edge of his cloak and immediately her bleeding stops. She’s cured. It’s what she came for, right? She’s well now, so, end of story, right?
Not for Jesus. He knows that healing power has gone out from him, and he wants to know who has touched him. Trembling, the woman steps forward. And this is where it gets interesting. For Jesus could have reprimanded her for crossing religious and cultural boundaries. He could have sent her away, with her health problem fixed, but still isolated and separated. Instead, in Luke 8.48, he says to her: Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go into peace. When he could have chastised her for her presumption, he instead calls her Daughter. He welcomes her, includes her, identifying her as someone who belongs with him.
In calling her Daughter, he could have gone straight to: Go in peace. Your body is better, now go live in the peace of that reality. Instead, he says: Your faith has saved you. Most translations will say something like: Your faith has made you well or has healed you. But the word Jesus uses is literally the word “saved.” Even so, it’s appropriate to translate the word as “made well” or “healed” — for those words remind us that salvation isn’t simply a spiritual reality. In the case of this woman, Jesus shows that being “cured” isn’t enough — she also needs to be made whole, made well, restored to community, brought in from the isolation of a dis-ease that has separated her medically and religiously from those around her.
Perhaps this why James tells the sick person to call on the elders for anointing and prayer — for their prayers will save (make whole, make well, restore) the sick person. And the Lord will raise him up, James writes, and any sins will be forgiven. Perhaps, as with the woman in Luke 8, James 5 is reminding us of the difference between curing and healing. By having the elders come and pray, the sick person is brought back into community, is made whole and well through the family of God. Curing may come (or not), but healing is always available through the church, her leaders, and her prayers.
For the truth is: not everyone gets cured. All around us are people suffering from chronic sickness, or mental illness, or difficulties or disorders or diseases that simply don’t get cured. And while we grieve for such folks, and we pray for them to experience a curing, our hope is bigger. Our hope is in healing, wholeness, salvation.
John Swinton notes that we live in a highly medicalized society, where the focus is on curing people. And if “being cured” is our only model of wellness, there are some who will never become more than their sickness or their condition. But healing is possible, even with a condition that doesn’t go away — if we see healing through the lens of community, of purpose, of hope. And Swinton contends that most people find healing in community. Which is what I believe is what is happening in James 5, and what Jesus invites the woman into in Luke 8. (In fact, Jesus literally tells her: “Go into peace.” It’s something she is now invited to participate in: the shalom of God, which comes in community with Him and His people. And this is what Jesus is inviting her back into.)
For his part, Swinton calls this the journey of healing. Where we often use war terminology (battling covid, fighting depression, attacking cancer), Swinton prefers the imagery of a journey — for “a journey always has a direction and an intention.”) All journeys have tough times and uphill slogs — some more than others. But all journeys, even the most difficult, have moments of peace and glimpses of grace. That even in the most difficult of struggles, we have a purpose and a destination. We are people of hope.
And, as people of hope, we walk with others through their journeys. We don’t give up on them. We don’t minimize their situation, or simply shower them with scripture. We don’t look for the quick fix or the simple solution. While not giving up on a cure, we set our sights on something more — on healing that comes through the persistent grace of God and the loving friendship of the faithful.
And that’s a journey we’re all invited to take.