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“Your Faith Has Made You Well”


Mark 5:34         Mark 10:52        Luke 17:19

 I don’t like intellectual snobs. For this reason I neither want to be an intellectual snob nor sound like one. If on Sunday morning I repeatedly direct the congregation to biblical languages and biblical meanings, it’s because I’m convinced a recovery of biblical meanings for biblical words is crucial for our life in Christ. I’m not showing off. I’m not discouraging people from reading the bible for themselves. I’m merely trying to provide whatever help I can so that a text thousands of years old will speak compellingly to modern folk like us.

Today we are going to examine several occasions of our Lord’s saying, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace.” “Has made you well:” in Greek it’s the verb that elsewhere means “has saved you.” It’s important that we know this, for the people whom Jesus “made well” were certainly “made well” in the sense of “made better, healed.” Yet even as they were made well or healed of this or that ailment, they were also “saved” in a deeper sense.

In the same way we must ponder the word “peace.” When we modern Gentiles hear the word we immediately think of inner peace, peace of mind, the absence of anxiety. When our Lord’s Israelite hearers heard “peace,” however, they didn’t first think of peace of mind; they thought of the Hebrew “shalom,” the Hebrew word we usually translate “peace” but which in fact has a much larger meaning. In Hebrew “shalom” means “salvation,” and salvation, everywhere in scripture, is the creation restored and relationships in it healed. “Salvation” and “ kingdom of God ” are exact synonyms. To enter the kingdom of God and to know the salvation of God are the same.

When Jesus says “Go in peace,” then, he isn’t referring first of all to peace of mind. He’s referring first of all to something bigger, grander, richer. “Go in peace” means “step forward, step ahead in the shalom or salvation of God.” Shalom is the reality of restoration at God’s hand. Christ’s people have come to live in it. Now that we live in it we are to live from it.

A minute ago I said that peace, shalom, didn’t refer in the first place to peace within us. But certainly it does in the second place.   To live in the peace or shalom of God “out there” is to be possessed of peace “in here.”

“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” It’s as though Jesus said “Through your trust in the king, through your clinging to me, you have come to live in the truth and reality of the kingdom. Now that you have come to live in it (‘your faith has “shalomed” you’), live from it. Move ahead in that truth you know to be unshakable.” As we move ahead in that kingdom, shalom, which cannot be shaken we find we are possessed of peace within us as well.

Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus engaged people beset with different problems and perplexities. Repeatedly he sent them on their way with good news ringing in their ears: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Today we are going to look at three such instances.


I: — In the first instance a simple woman of immense need said to herself, “If I can just touch the hem of his garment” (as the old hymn says.) Actually she didn’t touch his hem, either the hem of his cloak or the cuffs of his trousers. She touched the tzith tzith, the tassels on his talith. All Jewish men wore their talith or prayer shawl as an undergarment (as orthodox Jews do today.) The four tassels (a daily reminder that the truth of God and the immensity of God extend to the four corners of the world) hung down beneath whatever Jesus was wearing that day on top of his prayer shawl. The woman who had haemorrhaged for twelve years (by now she was weak, poor and embarrassed) felt she had nothing to lose. If she could reach out to any aspect of our Lord, even to the fringes on his under-shawl, then the shalom of God, restoration, would be hers.

Was she superstitious? I think at one level she might have been. After all, grasping cloth fringes doesn’t do anything for anyone. At a deeper level, however, what she really wanted to do was make contact with Jesus. At bottom what counts in every era isn’t this or that minor superstition that’s often found mixed up with faith; what counts is that people want to make contact with Jesus Christ, albeit in the only way they know how. The woman in our story may have believed much or little about Jesus, both what is true and what isn’t true. But what she believed about him or didn’t wasn’t the point ultimately: she knew that if she could touch him, somehow, her entire life would be reordered.

When I was a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Toronto I used to eat lunch with a graduate history student who had become startled, shaken even, at the disorder in the world and the disorder in her own life. She hadn’t had a Christian upbringing; she had no Christian memory. She had never been exposed to the gospel. Yet for some reason that only the mystery of God’s providence accounts for she thought that Jesus Christ might be the key to shalom without and peace within. She began attending church membership classes. There were many classes to attend. They discussed numerous theological subtleties, the place of angels, the role of Mary, the nature of the sacraments, and of course the superiority of denomination “A” over denomination “B.” One day at lunch she told me she had left the class. Frustrated, sad and more than slightly bitter she said, “All I ever wanted to do was make contact with him.”

However subtle we may become and should become in our understanding of Christianity let’s remember where the twelve disciples began. They began knowing little more than one all-determining truth: they simply knew that life with Jesus Christ was going to be better than life without him. In his company the disorder in the world gave way to the kingdom as the disorder in them gave way to peace. Apart from his company disorder, both outer and inner, would remain just that.

When discipleship became arduous and fair-weather followers abandoned Jesus he turned to the twelve and said, “Do you fellows want to quit too?” Speaking for all of them Peter replied, “Quit? Leaving you won’t help us. You alone wrap us in the shalom, the peace of God.”

When we are pressured in life, really pressured, I have found that theological hair-splitting isn’t very helpful. When we are being hammered whether we believe in Calvin’s extra-Calvinisticum or Luther’s communicatio idiomata doesn’t make any difference. When we are hammered and feel we are floundering we cry out with one cry only: “If I can just make contact….” It’s simpler than we think.

Still, what is simple in life isn’t thereby easy. It was simple for the woman to reach out to Jesus, but it wasn’t easy. She had to get through a crowd of men who didn’t understand, would never understand, her feminine problem with its attendant humiliation. No doubt some men dismissed her as silly; others as a nuisance. Certainly some would have made vulgar remarks about her, obscenities that didn’t even rise to the level of locker room humour. Still, she persisted, and while simple persistence is simple it isn’t easy.

It takes courage for people to persist today. It takes courage to reach out today while others snicker and ridicule. It takes courage amidst the pseudo-sophistication of those who equate faith with infantilism and scepticism with maturity.

Yet we persist in reaching out to Jesus because we have discerned the disorder “out there” and the concomitant disorder “in here.” As we do, we find our courage met instantly as our Lord does for us all that we expected and more. For we, in the company of countless others, hear him say “You haven’t touched me in vain. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”


II: — Having made contact with our Lord, having made this crucial beginning, we crave more. Now that we are living in the shalom or salvation of God; now that we are living in the kingdom, the peace we have frees us to see what we’ve never seen before. When I say “frees us” I mean exactly that. After all, apart from the transformation that Christ works in us we don’t really want to see, however much we say we do. Psychological experiments have demonstrated irrefutably how prone people are to see what they want to see, even as they fail to see what they don’t want to see.

Then who wants to see? Only those whose living in the company of Jesus Christ frees them from fearing what they might see if they are made to see. For this reason Jesus asks Bartimaeus, a blind man, a question that only seems to be silly: “What do you want me to do for you?” Courageously, with that courage Christ’s company supplies, Bartimaeus replies, “I want to see; I really do.” He is made to see. And then our Lord adds, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

The truth is, if we are going to “be well” then in addition to making contact with Jesus Christ we also need to be made to see. And if we are going to be made to see most profoundly, salvifically even, then only our Lord can do it. To be sure he rarely does it directly; that is, we aren’t made to see all by ourselves. Instead our Lord brings us to see through the instrumentality of someone we trust and love.

I have had the mirror held up to me on several occasions. It’s painful. It’s embarrassing. I’m not referring here to the situation where someone has waited weeks to get us “in his gun sights” and finally pulls the trigger. In other words I don’t have in mind the situation where someone out to get us abuses us verbally in public or   humiliates us. In this situation we may be so very devastated that we can’t defend ourselves; or we may be able to defend ourselves, in which case we should. I’m speaking, rather, where someone we trust, someone we know to have only our best interests at heart – a colleague, a friend, a spouse — gently confronts us with what we’ve never admitted about ourselves. It’s actually an indirect form of our Lord’s touching us so that we can finally see what heretofore we’ve never dared admit.
Within a year or two of my arrival in Mississauga (in other words I’d had time to attend several presbytery meetings) an older minister put his arm around me one night at the conclusion of the meeting and said warmly, non-accusingly, non-threateningly, “Victor, you have many gifts. Gentleness isn’t one of them. But gentleness happens to be a fruit of the Spirit. You aren’t helping yourself.” Did I resent him? On the contrary, I found in him the approach of the master himself as he said, “Your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

One day I was lamenting to Maureen the seeming coldness of a woman, wife of a friend, in our congregation in Mississauga . Maureen cut off my complaining as she said, without hint of nastiness, without hint of rejection, “I don’t find Mrs. X cold at all. It’s not that Mrs. X is cold; she simply won’t flirt with you.” I went to the floor with that one. Tell me: do I flirt? Perhaps you’d better not tell me until I’m certain that you love me.

We shouldn’t dismiss out of hand the person who gently tells us we appear to view many people with contempt since our speech is riddled with sarcasm. We need to be told if we are irked by people who are less than transparent when all the while our proclivity to exaggeration or deception or misrepresentation is common knowledge. We should hear and heed our children if they dare to tell us that what they do appears not be nearly as important to us as how they cause us, their parents, to appear.

The truth is there are very, very few secrets about any of us. Privacy isn’t the same as secrecy. Privacy is essential to mental health. Good. Let’s not give it up. But privacy and secrecy aren’t the same. What’s private and should be private isn’t necessarily secret and is rarely secret in any case. In other words, other people “read” us more quickly and more accurately than we think. Then we shouldn’t assume they’re wrong when they help us perceive that we do resent someone else’s good fortune; we are hostile toward those who merely disagree with us; we are indifferent to those who don’t flatter us.

In the company of Jesus Christ we want to see. What he enables us to see he also remedies. As he remedies our blindness he says, “Your faith has made you well, saved you; go in peace.”


III: — Being made well has to do with more than making contact with our Lord, more than even being made to see; it has to do as well with being rendered thankful. In other words gratitude is an aspect of our salvation.

Jesus healed ten lepers. Nine thoughtlessly went on their way. The tenth fellow returned, Luke tells us, “prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” At this point Jesus said, “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you well.”

Plainly, gratitude is a necessary ingredient in faith. Faith is genuine only if it includes thankfulness.

In the year 1563, when turbulence riddled Europe and life was riskier than we can imagine, two young men drew up what turned out to be the crown jewel of the shorter Reformation documents; namely, the Heidelberg Catechism. The Heidelberg Catechism aimed at nurturing and strengthening faith amidst threats to faith from all sides. The catechism has 129 questions and answers. They are divided into three sections: one, “The Misery of Humankind;” two, “The Redemption of Humankind;” three, “Thankfulness.” The third section discusses the whole of the Christian life: the Ten Commandments and the obedience we owe them, service to the neighbour, prayer, repentance, spiritual discipline. In other words the whole of the Christian life is gathered up in one word: thankfulness.

Our Reformed foreparents were correct: thankfulness does comprehend the whole of the Christian life. Thankfulness to Godgets us away from ourselves and neutralizes our whining about ourselves even as it neutralizes our envy of others. Only ceaseless gratitude to God will keep us shaping our lives after God’s commandments when so many people around us don’t understand why we should obey anyone. Gratitude to God is the lifeblood of our public worship, even as the same gratitude finds us humbled before God in private. Only thankfulness to God frees us to spend ourselves for others who cannot repay us and may not even notice us.

There’s even more to thankfulness; namely, what it fends off. When Paul speaks in Romans 1 of people with “darkened minds” and degenerate conduct, he succinctly states the reason for their darkened thinking and degenerate living: “They did not give thanks.” Ingratitude entails spiritual decline; spiritual decline entails degenerate living. When our Lord told the grateful leper, “Your faith has made you well, saved you,” it was no exaggeration. To be sure, the other nine lepers were lepers no longer, like the tenth. Unlike the nine, however, the tenth who returned to thank his healer was healed of far more than leprosy: his inner life and his outer life thereafter were one, and thereafter were righteous.


What’s the connection among the people we’ve looked at today? A desperate, courageous woman knew that if she could simply touch Jesus, make contact with him, her outer world would be altered and her inner turmoil rendered peace. A blind man knew that if he submitted to Christ’s touch he would see what he’d never seen before. A healed leper knew that he had to thank Jesus if all that the master longed to do for him was going to be his.

What’s the connection? You and I must want to make contact with Jesus Christ. Having made contact with him, and rejoicing in our new relationship with him, we must want him to make us see, lest we remain blind to spiritual defects in us that are no secret in any case. Having been made to see we must want to thank our Lord for his astounding mercy – only to hear him to say to us, “Your faith has made you well; now you go in the peace of God, shalom, as your life without and your life within is made forever different.”


Victor Shepherd

February 2005