In the biblical gospels, we find many accounts where Jesus meets someone with what we today would call a disability and offers that person healing. What does it mean that Jesus heals, and how is this healing different from what we call a “cure”?
How Jesus heals vs. curing
Since our culture tends to think about bodies and disabilities through a medical perspective, it makes sense that when we think about healing, particularly for folks with disabilities, we might assume it means some kind of bodily healing, or cure. But especially in healing narratives where the gospel writer goes into detail, we realize these encounters are about much more than a cure.
If curing were the essential part, the narrative could end when the body is changed. But instead, gospel writers continue reporting far beyond the moment of physical cure to include details that wouldn’t matter if curing the body were the main point.
This is part of how we recognize that healing is not equivalent to curing in the gospels. A cure is simply a transformation of a body (part), a body that will eventually deteriorate and die. But Jesus’s healing is much bigger and involves someone’s entire life.
Why Jesus heals more than the body
In Jesus’s context, having a disability was about more than what a person couldn’t do (see, walk, etc.). It was also about what they were not able to be: namely, valued, integrated members of their social community and worship space, with meaningful vocations (things that continue to be true for too many people with disabilities today).
So Jesus’s healing work needed to involve holistic transformation.
Apart from bodily cure, the people Jesus heals experience healing socially, relationally, spiritually, and in many other ways. It is a whole life transformation, including transformation of how people perceive them.
In an encounter, Jesus will often remind the person (and anyone nearby) of that person’s true identity—by calling them a daughter, son, part of the family of faith—something that was always true, but not always acknowledged by the broader culture.
When they are healed on a social level, people are able to more fully integrate into their community. And spiritually, they recognize the truth of who Jesus is, often becoming followers or worshipers, and sometimes even gain a meaningful vocation as evangelists to their hometowns. These are all aspects of healing, going beyond cure.
What can we learn from Jesus about healing vs. curing?
The lingering question: as followers of Jesus, should we consider cure an essential part of healing?
Caring for people’s bodies mattered to Jesus, and it should matter to us. But a common thread among the healing encounters is that the person left the encounter feeling good about what took place.
For a number of folks with disabilities today, a bodily cure is not something they need or even want, because they appreciate the bodies and minds God has given them. In these cases, to assume healing must include bodily cure could be harmful, something that did not occur when Jesus healed.
So to follow in the way of Jesus today means holistically healing (which may not include curing): deeper integration into community, growing connection to Jesus, and a meaningful life path. What would it mean to make space for this kind of healing for people?
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From Everybody Belongs, Serving Together
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Bethany McKinney Fox
Rev. Dr. Bethany McKinney Fox is pastor of Beloved Everybody Church, an ability-inclusive church in Los Angeles where people with and without disabilities lead and participate together. She is also the author of Disability and the Way of Jesus: Holistic Healing in the Gospels and the Church (IVP Academic, 2019).