In one of his books on the historical Jesus, John Meier points out that Jesus was known by his contemporaries primarily as a healer. That was his reputation. The main things people knew Jesus for were healing, exorcizing, and preaching/teaching, probably in that order.
I wonder if his disciples didn’t understand themselves to be continuing this kind of ministry after his resurrection. Certainly, when he sends them out on a mission he gives them instructions that have to do with exorcism and healing (Mark 6:13; Matthew 10:8). His disciples continue to heal after his resurrection. In other words, was Christianity originally a healing movement? What if healing was the core purpose of the church? How would that change the way we operate now?
Many would rightly suggest that the core purpose of Jesus and the church has to do with salvation. The word for salvation in the Greek language (in which the New Testament was written) is sozo. One of the meanings of sozo, along with save, rescue, keep from harm, and liberate, is heal. We have a classic hymn that praises God who has “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven” us. These words sum up what salvation is about.
In his own preaching, the main theme to which Jesus returns repeatedly is the Kingdom of God. This is his vision of the saved world: ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven by God.
Salvation in a cosmic and universal sense is what Jesus finally accomplishes in his death and resurrection. This giving of his life to the world heals the relationship, which had been broken by sin, between God and humanity.
So, what he did for individuals in his healing and exorcizing ministry, he does for the whole creation in his death and resurrection. And because he does it for the whole creation, the church now ministering in his name may witness to this salvation and extend this healing into the lives of people here and now.
The fact that Jesus talks about it as a kingdom indicates that Jesus also understands this healing to have a central political element. One of the indications and causes of the disease and illness which Jesus came to heal was a disordered and unjust political and economic system. This system was a big contributor in making people sick. It was oppressive, exploitative, terrorizing, and designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Many of his healings of individuals also had a pointed metaphorical dig at Rome, like when he healed a man possessed by a “legion” of demons. A legion was a unit of the Roman army.
We know very well that a sick society produces sick individuals. So Jesus’ healing ministry extended into the development of healthy communities based on justice and peace.
In other words, Jesus’ healing ministry was holistic in the sense that it was not limited to just one aspect of human life — eg. physical, emotional, political, or economic. He was concerned with healing the whole person, the whole community, and the whole creation.
Unfortunately, the church has largely lost sight of this healing aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Most churches don’t explicitly talk about themselves as healing centers, and it doesn’t often occur to people that if they need healing the church is a place to go for it.
For Jesus, healing was not just a matter of repairing someone in body or mind so they could participate again in what we call the rat race. It was far more comprehensive and encompassing than that... and demanding. He knew that people would not stay healed if they immediately fell back into a corrupt and debilitating system. He knew that the system itself had to be replaced.
The church was supposed to be this new community: a place of healing, forgiveness, restoration, acceptance, inclusion, liberation, beauty, joy, justice, and peace. Somehow we need to get back to these core values. We need to remember that salvation is about healing, and that this healing extends from the cosmic reconciliation of the creation itself, to the formation of creative, loving communities, to the healing of individuals and their physical, emotional, spiritual brokenness and pain.