Your “Faith” Has Saved You?
“And replying to him, Jesus said, ‘What do you want that I shall do for you?’ but the blind one said to him, ‘Rabbouni, that I shall see again.’ And Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has saved you’” (Mark 10:51-52a, my translation).
“Your faith has saved you” is a thing in the Markan composition. Jesus says the same thing to the woman who touched his cloak (let’s not lose track of that connection) in Mark 5:34 (my translation). “But he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace, and be made whole from your illness.” The words in the most pertinent phrase are identical.
Let’s look at the word alternately translated as “saved,” as “healed,” and as “made well.” The latter rendering is the NRSV’s preference in both Mark 5:34 and Mark 10:52. The verb is “sozo” and the related noun is “soteria.” The primary meaning of the verb is “to save.” The primary meaning of the noun is “salvation.” Definitions involving health and healing are secondary meanings for the words.
Foerster notes in his TDNT entry that the verb “never refers to a single member of the body but always to the whole man (sic)…The choice of the word leaves room for the view that the healing power of Jesus and the saving power of faith go beyond physical life” (page 990). The disciples use the verb, he notes, in the story of the rich man to wonder “who then can be saved?” The word can describe what it means to enter into or inherit the life that comes with following Jesus.
We need to go back to the story of the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak for a few moments. Hurtado notes that “the woman was healed because she put faith in Jesus and his power, not because the touch of a holy man automatically cures” (page 87). A similar emphasis, Hurtado argues, is found in the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter. The result of “faith” is more than physical healing. It is, in fact, a whole new life.
N. T. Wright helps us as well to think about being saved by our faith. He notes that it was clearly Jesus’ power that healed and saved the woman. But Jesus says it was her faith that made it happen. “The answer must be that faith, though itself powerless,” Wright argues, “is the channel through which Jesus’ power can work” (Kindle Location, 1219).
There is a great deal of subtlety here, and it is worth trying to unpack. The woman, and Bartimaeus, do not “earn” their healing and saving by their believing. Instead, their trust is both the first sign of that healing and saving and the conduit through which the healing and saving come to them. In the case of the woman, the power flows out of Jesus and into her. In the case of Bartimaeus, Jesus summons him, and he responds.
Therefore, Wright suggests, “faith, however much fear and trembling may accompany it, is the first sign of that remaking, that renewal, that new life” (Kindle Location 1221). Somehow, this “faith” both makes and marks the new disciple.
I think that part of the struggle for many traditional Protestant readers is the notion that “your” faith has saved you. The assumption seems to be that if something is my property, that is, if it belongs to me, then I must have either produced or purchased it. The property is, therefore my “accomplishment.” We find ourselves, then, in the territory of works righteousness, and the interpretive train quickly goes off the tracks.
It is not necessary, however, that the only things that belong to me are things I have either purchased or produced. My voice, for example, is certainly mine. It doesn’t belong to someone else. Yet, I am not responsible for its existence. I can only receive my voice as a gift and then use it or not use it. If I had not received my voice along with the rest of my body, there wouldn’t be any questions about its use.
I think we can see “faith” in the same way. My faith can be “mine” without me having to purchase or produce it. It is part of me, inheres in my being, and is available for my use. In fact, it is part of what makes me “me.” Faith, in this sense is, as Wright suggests, is a sign of new life, not the way to get it. But that doesn’t mean that “faith” is a purely passive reality.
If you want to pursue this line of inquiry and reflection, you will certainly want to read Matt Skinner’s workingpreacher.org commentary. Skinner describes “the active faith of Bartimaeus.” This active faith “is not about reciting the correct confession or subscribing to certain dogmas,” Skinner writes. “It is his unrelenting conviction that Jesus can and will rescue him from his need. We see this faith,” Skinner argues, “in what Bartimaeus does…”
Skinner puts this doing under four headings. Bartimaeus grasps who Jesus is. He persists despite hindrances. He expects a transformation. And he asks for the right thing. It’s worth putting my own experience and definition of faith alongside these headings and see how “faith” works for me.
“In Mark, Bartimaeus is not the first person seeking a miracle who approaches Jesus in faith, but he is the only one who winds up following him,” Skinner observes, “presumably straight into Jerusalem and into his confrontation with the temple-based aristocracy.”
The story of Bartimaeus gives us disciples hope in the face of the failures of the Twelve. “Without Bartimaeus, and others in Mark like him who tenaciously cling to Jesus out of faith born from their urgent needs,” Skinner continues, “this Gospel would offer little assurance that anyone could have the spiritual insight to perceive the mysterious ways of God in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ.”
Skinner reminds us that this connection between “faith” and “being saved” is a field filled with theological landmines. “Faith” may not always result in “healing.” Illness does not arise directly from one’s sins. We may have to carefully say out loud that there is no direct connection between what we do and how we are saved. Faith, we remember, leads first to the cross. But the cross leads to resurrection.
Karl Jacobson, in his workingpreacher.org commentary puts it this way. “Faith can make us well. This is not magic, or superstition, or some simple fix of course. It seems clear, to me at least, that when Jesus says, ‘Your faith has made you well,’ he is not saying that these people somehow believed their way into wellness.”
“Rather,” Jacobson continues, “he is pronouncing their wellness, declaring it, making it happen for them. It is Jesus who heals, and faith that receives that healing. And so it is, or can be,” he concludes, “for those who hear this story and this good news. Faith can make us well. Faith can open our eyes (sic), unstop our ears — even raise us from death. This is the power of the promise wherein faith and forgiveness, faith and wellness, meet; this is the power of Jesus’ word for salvation. And it is to this meeting of faith and fullness of life that we ought to be preaching.”
The classic location, especially in our Lutheran tradition, for the connection between salvation and faith is Ephesians 2:8-10. “For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith; and this is not out of you, (it is) the gift of God; not out of works, in order that no one may boast” (verses 8-9, my translation). The grammar indicates that the “gift of God” includes the faith. It is not something we produce or purchase. That it, it is not a “work” in that Pauline sense.
The real punchline for this passage, however, is in verse 10: “For we are (God’s) works of art, being created in Christ Jesus for the purpose of good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk through our lives in them” (my translation). The word I translate as “works of art” is “poiehma.” It’s where we get our words “poem” and “poetry.” Faith is God in Christ working in us to fashion us as God has created us to be.
Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” The root of “do” is closely related to the works of art in Ephesians 2:10. What if we translate the question as, “What do you want me to do to you?”? The Greek dative will certainly permit that translation. “Faith” is what God does to us in Christ to re-make us into what God has always intended us to be. Bartimaeus is saved in order to grow into one of God’s works of art in Christ.
That’s the kind of faith that can get me up and going!
References and Resources
Culpepper, R. Alan. “Mark 10:50: Why Mention the Garment?” Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 101, no. 1, Society of Biblical Literature, 1982, pp. 131–32, https://doi.org/10.2307/3260446.
Dewey, Joanna. The Oral Ethos of the Early Church: Speaking, Writing, and the Gospel of Mark. Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Hurtado, Larry. Mark (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series). Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker Books, 1989.
Foerster, TDNT VII:989-992.
Robbins, Vernon K. “The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus (10:46-52) in the Marcan Theology.” Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 92, no. 2, Society of Biblical Literature, 1973, pp. 224–43, https://doi.org/10.2307/3262955.
Wright, N. T. Mark for Everyone (The New Testament for Everyone). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.