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!”
25 Noticing that the crowd had surged together, Jesus spoke harshly to the unclean spirit, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you to come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 After screaming and shaking the boy horribly, the spirit came out. The boy seemed to be dead; in fact, several people said that he had died. 27 But Jesus took his hand, lifted him up, and he arose.
28 After Jesus went into a house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we throw this spirit out?”
29 Jesus answered, “Throwing this kind of spirit out requires prayer.”
In Jesus' day, most of today’s medical and psychological insights into human pain didn’t exist. People called nearly all inexplicable ills—like the probable case of epilepsy reported in today’s reading—“demon possession.” (Note that in this story, the “demon” didn’t speak at all, unlike in many of the other demon confrontations—e.g. Mark 5:1-9). The father’s plea in verse 24 resonates with most Christ-followers at some points in their journey.
Lord Jesus, you did not stay comfortable and safe while destructive forces were loose in the world you created. Give me the caring and courage to enlist as one of your servants, working with you to help those who hurt for any reason. Amen.
* 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.)
In today’s passage (Mark 9:14-29), we see Jesus heal a boy with what is described as a demon, but what we know today was probably epilepsy. This was a condition that had plagued the boy his entire life, and may have eventually killed him had Jesus not stepped in. The boy’s father initially approached Jesus apprehensively, asking if he could do anything about it rather than simply asking him to heal him. Jesus has a snappy retort: “ ‘If you can do anything?’ All things are possible for the one who has faith!”
It’s easy to assume that the man didn’t have faith in God—and that’s part of it—but I think there’s more to it. The man also didn’t have faith that things could get any better, by any means. And that’s something I can relate to. There are a lot of times I don’t doubt God, but I don’t even think to ask Him because I assume that the way things are now are the way things will always be—I don’t always spot opportunities for positive change or believe that a better tomorrow is possible.
I’m reminded of a story about a man who hears that his town will be flooding. The rains pour down and he goes up to his roof to pray to God to save him from the flood. A boat comes along and offers to take him to safety, and the man says, “No! I’m asking God to save me!” An hour goes by and the waters are halfway up to the roof. Another boat comes by and offers to take the man to safety, but he similarly refuses, saying, “No! I’m waiting for God to save me!” Another hour goes by and the man’s house is now under water. The man’s legs are submerged in water even as he stands on his roof. A third boat comes by and offers to bring him to safety, but the man exclaims, “No! I know my God will save me!” Soon after that, the waters keep rising and the man drowns. When the man gets to Heaven, he exclaims to God, “Why didn’t you save me from the flood?” God responds, “What do you mean? I sent three boats!”
It’s a humorous story, but it illustrates that point perfectly. We can have total faith in God’s power, but still not hope for a real solution to our problems.
Growing up, I slowly had to come to grips with the fact that I was a bit different than my peers. I had trouble paying attention in classes and focusing on homework assignments. I had a lot of trouble socializing and having fun with peers. I was tired most of the time and didn’t have the energy to get involved in activities like most of my friends. I was very smart, but I had a lot of trouble thinking of myself as smart or capable—I just assumed I was a failure.
What I discovered at age 21 was that I wasn’t a failure. I had a medical condition that caused all of those things: chronic depression. In one semester of college, I went from nearly failing out to making straight As and acing every assignment. For me, the difference was medical treatment: I found an antidepressant that was, for me, life-changing and allowed me to live a normal life that had not been possible before. I have no doubt that this solution was one that God led me to, much like the boats that were sent to the man in the story above. But my road to recovery began not with believing in the power of God—I had plenty of that kind of faith—but in believing that things could get better, and that the way things were didn’t have to be the way things continued to be.
If you’re struggling in your life right now, in any way, take heart that things can and probably will get better. Healing and recovery can take a lot of forms—it could be a miracle that turns things around, or something much more tangible like a boat or an antidepressant—but things aren’t going to get better unless you believe that it’s possible for things to get better and seek out a solution. God has the power to fix any problem, including yours, no matter how big or small. Have faith not only in God but also in a brighter future. You might be surprised by what that leads you to.
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