The End of Separation: The Deeper Meaning of Faith and Healing

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As He was telling them these things, suddenly one of the leaders came and knelt down before Him, saying, “My daughter is near death, but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.” So Jesus and His disciples got up and followed him.

Just then, a woman who had suffered from bleeding for 12 years approached from behind and touched the tassel on His robe, for she said to herself, “If I can just touch His robe, I’ll be made well!”

But Jesus turned and saw her. “Have courage, daughter,” He said. “Your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that moment. (Matthew 9:18-22)

It’s one of the most iconic stories in the gospels: in the midst of speaking with his disciples, Jesus is summoned by a synagogue leader to come and heal his daughter. Mark tells us she was twelve years old.

On the way, he is interrupted by a woman who stumbles out of the crowd and touches the edge of his robe. While we don’t know what caused her condition, Matthew tells us she has been bleeding for twelve years — the entire lifetime of the leader’s daughter.

The touch accomplishes healing, and Jesus turns around and blesses the woman for her faith. It’s a beautiful and heartening story, but it also opens up questions about divine healing, faith, and what it means to approach God.

Ending the Separation

Within the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day, the woman’s illness held a deeper meaning that might not be immediately apparent to us. No one who was bleeding or experiencing some other bodily discharge was allowed to enter the temple — where the presence of God was to be found — or take part in the sacrifices or other holy rituals.

This prohibition was part of the Levitical “Holiness Codes,” a set of regulations meant to differentiate between “clean” and “unclean” and emphasize the purity of God.

So for this woman, twelve years of bleeding didn’t just represent physical suffering, nor did it simply represent impoverishment (we are told by Mark that she spent everything she had trying to find a cure, but doctors could do nothing for her — in fact they made her condition worse).

They also represented twelve years of separation from God and alienation from her own identity as one of God’s holy people.

When she reached for the edge of Jesus’ robe, she might not have been aware that she was physically reaching for God — but spiritually, that is exactly what she was trying to do.

This wasn’t just about getting healed in her body. It was about ending the separation between her and God.

The Wineskin Connection

It’s interesting that Matthew says this interaction happened immediately after Jesus shared the parable of the new wine and the old wineskins.

The Holiness Codes were an integral part of the “old wineskin” of the Old Covenant. This healing was new wine in every way.

Under the Holiness Codes, anything the woman touched — especially other people — was supposed to become unclean. It was supposed to share in her uncleanness.

This woman did something horrifying to those around her: she dared to touch a holy man. If things had worked out in an old wineskin way, she would have made Jesus ritually unclean and caused him to be barred from the temple and the presence of God for a time.

Somehow, she understood that his connection to God was so strong that this would not happen.

And she was right. What happened was a striking, startling miracle: not only did the woman’s touch NOT make Jesus unclean, but his purity, his holiness, his cleanliness came back on her and cleansed her physical impurity.

That wasn’t how it was supposed to work. In some way, uncleanness (and the sin it represented) were supposed to be the stronger power, capable of separating us from God.

Instead, the purity of Jesus was so much stronger that it was capable of purifying and reconciling others.

It still is.

This was new wine, and the old wineskin would have to be retired in order to make way for it.

Your Faith Has Made You Well

Hebrews 11:6 tells us,

Without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him.

When Jesus told the woman that her faith had made her well, we often interpret that as meaning that because she believed she would be healed, she was.

But I think it’s more accurate to say that because she believed Jesus had a special connection to God and that he could and would help her, she was rewarded. Not for her trust in an outcome but for her trust in a man.

Faith is not about believing for specific outcomes so much as it’s about reaching for the God we seek.

The Value of Faith

Faith is, simply put, belief or trust: therefore it is only as valuable as its object.

To speak of faith in a circumstance or result — to say as we often do, “I have faith for that” — is to cheapen faith.

Real faith is ultimately relational, based on trust in a person. The word itself was originally a relational word denoting both trust and commitment, as we might speak of “keeping faith” with another person or having a “faithful friend.”

Rather than speak of faith for such-and-such an outcome, then, we are speaking more biblically when we speak of faith in ourselves, faith in others, and best of all, faith in God.

That is the faith Jesus rewarded: not simply the woman’s belief that she could and would be healed, but her faith that if she came to God in this way, through Jesus, he would reward her. He would accept her.

She took a step to end her years of separation from God and believed that he would meet her in the middle.

The Deeper Meaning of Faith and Healing

In our own day there’s a resurgence of belief in divine healing, and I think this is a good thing on many levels.

For one thing, God can and does heal today. I’ve personally witnessed this. The good that comes into people’s lives through physical restoration is a wonderful thing.

But along with this is a tendency, at times, to define faith as “strong or unwavering belief in an outcome we want,” or to treat Scripture almost as a collection of spells — incantations we can repeat over and over until we make something happen.

When we act this way, we miss the point completely. Jesus praised the woman’s faith NOT because she believed she could be healed, but because she believed she could access God through Jesus. It was a relational faith, a faith in Jesus, and that is what he rewarded.

Faith in Jesus is praiseworthy in God’s eyes whether it results in physical healing or not. Since God is a person, and there are many factors at play in every individual life and in the fallen world at large that we are not aware of, he may at times choose not to heal.

(Or at least, not in our time frame. Overshadowing any healing narrative in Christian life is the fact of the coming resurrection, when the bodily aspect of salvation will snap fully into place. We are not there yet.)

In fact, just as clear as the fact that God does heal today is the fact that sometimes he doesn’t, and it has nothing to do with the strength of the sick person’s faith.

No one who dares come to God and request healing should ever be shamed or condemned if healing does not follow. They have the faith that is needed — the faith to approach God in the first place.

This woman’s faith in Jesus made her well.

Your faith in Jesus may result in some other outcome.

But if you press into it, if you reach for God through Jesus, believing he will end the separation between you and that you will in fact touch the hem or the feet or the face of God in your reaching — you will access outcomes the woman in Matthew 9 surely never dreamed of.

You will enter the very presence of God. You will live forever. You will stand in resurrection and declare, with Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25).

That is the real meaning of faith and healing: not that we will necessarily get our way here and now in these physical bodies, but that we will touch God, know him, and live with him forever.


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This is Part 127 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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2 responses to “The End of Separation: The Deeper Meaning of Faith and Healing”

  1. Rachel Avatar

    Thanks, Ken! “Lover and brother” — I LOVE how you put that!

  2. Ken Goudsward Avatar

    Great insights Rachel. Jesus healed many and i believe he passed that blessing onto us, but the thing is, he was present as lover and brother as much as healer. God’s desire is always for us. Yes he desires good for his children, but really his heart longs to connect with them.

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