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14 When Jesus, Peter, James, and John approached the other disciples, they saw a large crowd surrounding them and legal experts arguing with them. 15 Suddenly the whole crowd caught sight of Jesus. They ran to greet him, overcome with excitement. 16 Jesus asked them, “What are you arguing about?”
17 Someone from the crowd responded, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, since he has a spirit that doesn’t allow him to speak. 18 Wherever it overpowers him, it throws him into a fit. He foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and stiffens up. So I spoke to your disciples to see if they could throw it out, but they couldn’t.”
19 Jesus answered them, “You faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I put up with you? Bring him to me.”
20 They brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a fit. He fell on the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been going on?”
He said, “Since he was a child. 22 It has often thrown him into a fire or into water trying to kill him. If you can do anything, help us! Show us compassion!”
23 Jesus said to him, “‘If you can do anything’? All things are possible for the one who has faith.”
24 At that the boy’s father cried out, “I have faith; help my lack of faith!”
In Jesus’ day, most of today’s medical and psychological insights didn’t exist. People called nearly all inexplicable ills—like the probable case of epilepsy reported in today’s reading—“demon possession.” The father’s plea in verse 24 feels familiar to most Christ-followers at times. He sounded like Donald Miller’s friend, who said, “There is this part of me that wants to believe….I feel as though I need to believe….But it is all so completely stupid.” *
Lord Jesus, you did not stay comfortable and safe while destructive forces were loose in your world. Give me the caring and courage to enlist, working with you to help all those who are hurt. Amen.
Sometimes the only way I can even begin to understand difficult Scripture is to put myself into the story. Who am I in today’s story? Am I somewhere in the crowd, arguing legalities and details, believing that the answer is always somewhere in the facts, and that solutions lie in changes of behavior and thinking? Am I the frustrated father, who brought his son to Jesus’ disciples, believing that they might be able to end the suffering by their “magic” powers? Am I, perhaps, one of the disciples, loving and following Jesus, but still distracted by questions of power and position, not listening to the teacher with my whole heart or mind?
I think I could be any of those people on any given day. I know that my faith and understanding are always a work in progress, and I am a long way from perfection. I know who I want to be. I want to be that father after he actually meets and speaks to Jesus and realizes that the answer doesn’t lie in rules, or magic, but also realizes that faith is hard and he needs help. I want to cry out “I have faith, help me in my lack of faith!”
Later in this story, when Jesus is again alone with the disciples, they ask, “Why couldn’t we drive it [the demon] out?” Jesus replies, “This kind can come out only by prayer” (Mark 9:29). The father discovered that truth, when he cried out for God’s help, not just for the healing of his son, but for the increase of his own faith.
God already knows just how far my progress in faith has come, and how far it still has to go. God is waiting, loving me, while I come to the realization that faith is not a set of rules, or magic, and that believing is not easy. The only way I can ever hope to find help in my unbelief, in my shaky and frightened moments, in my confusion when reading stories like this one, is to pray. I can’t help my own unbelief. All the self-talk and self-affirmation in the world won’t do it. Only the power of the Father, Son, and Spirit can bring me to that kind of belief. With this father, and with everyone who desperately needs to see and understand God’s work in their life, I pray,
Father, Son, and Spirit, help me in my unbelief. Help me connect to you in real and honest prayer, so that I may see your true love and power. Amen.
* Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003, p. 53.
** David E. Garland, Reflection comment on Mark 9:14-29 in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Volume 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002).
*** N. T. Wright, Mark for Everyone. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 13.)