Luke 8:43-48 provokes a question: Is the famous New Testament missionary-physician just another writer obsessed with words? That brief passage features three distinct terms for healing.
Verse 43 introduces us to the Greek origins of our word “therapy.” The woman of our story has been sick for 12 years. Now she comes to Jesus to be healed, to get therapy: our root word here is therapeuo. When you and I cannot stop coughing, we seek out a cough mixture. At times, we even need a shot! The woman around whom the story whirls came to Jesus first, it seems, merely to get treatment.
In verse 47 the second occurrence of a word for “healing” comes from the Greek iaomai. This word goes beyond physical healing (therapy) itself and its benefits. It means to “put the pieces together” or to “make whole”’—at times, instantaneously whole. This points to the truth that physical sickness affects more than our physical person.
Because of her physical condition, our hero had to cope with a serious social challenge. Her first disadvantage, her gender, may still be an issue today, where women earn three quarters of what men do for the same work. But in her time the disadvantage was more grievious. A woman, in her day, had either limited rights or no rights at all. Beyond this, sickness such as hers simply amplified her hardship.
For today’s woman there is the possibility of access to—or better, the ability to pay for—good health insurance coverage. But even those who do not have good insurance coverage are generally much less ostracized than was the case with our story’s unnamed character.
In addition to her social and physical challenges, she eventually encountered a grave financial challenge when, having spent all she had, she found herself no better (Mark 5:26). She was now a sick, broke woman. When one comes to grips with so many challenges, one would hope: “If only I could go to church on Sabbath, listen to my pastor preach an inspiring sermon, and meet my encouraging friends, I could face another week.” Unfortunately, the levitical laws prevented her from even going to church (Lev. 12:4)!
To worsen this already-unfavorable situation, some, during Bible times and even today, consider sicknesses as direct punishment of a secretly practiced sin. Consequently, those who are sick may be viewed and related to as cursed by God. In addition to this woman’s existing social, physical, and financial challenges, she had to contend with this grave spiritual disapproval as well. What was there to hold her together? How could she not be broken into pieces?
She needed that instantaneous, miraculous healing that consists of putting together the broken pieces of her whole self. So while she may have come only to obtain a therapy, a treatment, she met with Jesus, who picked up all the broken pieces and made her whole again.
It looks as if Doctor Luke saved the best for last. His third use of the concept of healing depends on the Greek word sozo, which means salvation (see also Luke 7:50). Jesus now offers her something far better than just therapeuo or iaomai. He offers her total restoration! The power to overcome not only social, physical, and financial adversities, but sin and the damage it causes.
This reminds me of what happened during an evangelistic series I conducted in South Africa. Three women who attended made their position clear to the Adventist friend who invited them: “We want to be physically fit, and we are accompanying you to these meetings only for the health nuggets.” Health talks preceded each of the series’ biblical presentations, and these women faithfully attended them all; they also stayed for the preaching of the Word.
Even though they didn’t commit their lives to the Lord during that evangelistic campaign, they were all three baptized a few months later, during another evangelistic series. Through their simple interest in health talks, they were touched by the transforming power of the Word of God. While they came for a therapeutic exercise, in the process they met Jesus, who not only made them whole but also saved them.
In this episode Luke teaches us that human physicians can provide care, therapy, and treatment; sometimes they can even assist their patients, however imperfectly, in picking up the pieces.
But there are things beyond Luke’s medical competence, beyond the insights of our most refined psychiatry, beyond the reach of our best science and research, that only the Mighty Physician can do: only He can restore body, soul, and spirit to the ideal He designed for them when He created humanity. Only He can completely save us from hopelessness.
Luke’s story also gives us a pattern on how best to present the gospel. We should not merely present the public with seminars on how to quit smoking, or how to cook healthy vegetarian dishes, and fail to introduce them to Jesus, who can make them whole and save them forever. God has not called us to make healthy sinners.
At the same time, we should not be judgmental toward those who come only for the health expo, the “therapy.” We must continue to present them to Jesus, who, through meeting their physical needs, prepares to extend to them the gift of salvation—something more than just therapy; more than just picking up the pieces. Accepting all His gifts will bring them total restoration and salvation. One way or another, nobody meets Jesus and remains the same.
Hensley Moorooven is an associate secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.