January 14, 2015
Dear brothers and sisters,
The good news today is in a fascinating story from Mark 9:14-29.
When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and scribes arguing with them. Immediately on seeing him, the whole crowd was utterly amazed. They ran up to him and greeted him. He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I have brought to you my son possessed by a mute spirit. Wherever it seized him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they were unable to do so.” He said to them in reply, “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him to me.” They brought the boy to him. And when he saw him, the spirit immediately threw the boy into convulsions. As he fell to the ground, he began to roll around and foam at the mouth. Then he questioned the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” He replied, “Since childhood. It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “’If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” Jesus, on seeing a crowd rapidly gathering, rebuked the unclean spirit and said to it, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again!” Shouting and throwing the boy into convulsions, it came out. He became like a corpse, which caused many to say, “He is dead!” But Jesus took him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up. When he entered the house, his disciples asked him in private, “Why could we not drive it out?” He said to them, “This kind can only come out through prayer.”
This seems like a kind of Catch-22 situation to me. Jesus can do anything for one who has faith and some demons can only be driven out through prayer. So, if I’m unable to drive out one of my demons like the disciples, does that mean I don’t have sufficient faith? Not all my prayers are answered in terms of the resolution I’m seeking. Does it mean I’m not praying in the right way? Does it mean I don’t have enough faith? What can I do about that? Or what am I to think about this teaching? Actually, my question is what is Jesus trying to teach me?
Moloney in The Gospel of Mark writes regarding Jesus’ frustration at his disciples’ lack of faith, “As failure increases, one might expect Jesus to declare ‘enough’ but this is never the case. Although expressed in different words, Jesus called the Twelve to be ‘with him,’ to share his life and ministry. The same idea is present here, but stated from Jesus’ side of the relationship. The brief expression of anger and frustration, which prepares for Jesus’ response to the disciples does not lead to Jesus’ abandoning of the disciples.” I can think of something I prayed for much of my life, nearly since childhood, to no avail. God didn’t respond as I asked, which sometimes caused me to question my faith and at other times to question myself.
This demon of doubt in God and in myself tried to kill me, tried to extinguish my faith and stirred thoughts of taking my own life. It came and went, but never left me entirely. It was only after reading and reflecting upon the gospels day after day for a year, which is a way of praying for me, that the demon was expelled. However, not in the way I expected. It was only when I was able to accept Jesus’ unconditional love for me, helping my unbelief, that I could be healed, made whole.
I think that what Jesus is trying to teach me is to simply pray for help in overcoming my unbelief. Instead of asking for what I want, for control over my life, I need to place myself in God’s loving care and let Him heal me in the way I need and in the way He wants to use me, to allow myself to be one with Him. Overcoming my unbelief by simply trusting God. That sounds so simple, but it is so hard for me to do. I want what I want! Just as Moloney says of the disciples, “They are beginning to impose their designs upon Jesus as something they can determine. For this they are regarded as a ‘faithless generation’ not prepared to admit their failure.” That’s the lack of faith that Jesus is decrying and is driving him to be frustrated with me. But he won’t abandon me; he will wait patiently for me to share his life, to follow his lead. Then, no demon can maintain power over me. Jesus will be able to command, “Come out of him and never enter him again!”