Scripture: Mark 9:14-29
16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
We’ve been having a series on healing, and as this series comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting deeply on this passage. There is something which really drew me to the interaction which is at the core of any of Jesus’s miracles: The encounter of Jesus himself.
If we take a step back, and we look at the encounters that Jesus has with the people he heals, you will find that in many of the stories, there is an emotional theme which we encounter again and again: Disappointment.
The Bible gives us a lot of absolute statements: God will always be with us, God always loves us, God will provide for us, save us, forgive us….
How many of us live this way, with absolute certainty? Does our life experience validate these absolute promises? Or do we often need to give God a “way out” because we want to believe those promises but we often feel disappointed in God?
[ Community discussion: When have you been disappointed in God? ]
If you think about it, there are many people who were disappointed in Jesus: The Syrophoenician woman with a demon possessed daughter; Jairus, who’s daughter dies because Jesus stops to meet the bleeding woman; Mary and Martha, whose brothers die because Jesus lingers in a neighboring town.
“My brother would not have died if you had been here”.
“I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
Jesus’ response seems even more disappointing: he says to the Syropheonician woman: “it is not good to take bread out of the children’s mouths and throw it to the dogs!”
Or here: “Oh unbelieving generation! How long will I be with you!”
How can Jesus say such things? How can he not want to comfort these people? They have suffered such incredibly loss.
I relate to the frustration of this father. I also know that my parents must have struggled heavily with this disappointment over the years as I’ve struggled with my own demons.
[ Newton has chosen to omit in publishing a personal story he shared with the Community ]
And here we have this story about this father. Who comes. And he sees Jesus and he says,
“But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
And Jesus’ response is “If you can? Everything is possible for one who believes.”
That statement must have hurt. I think Jesus means it to hurt. He puts it out there in a way that almost is designed to hurt the father. Because no matter what you think about his faith, the fact is that the man is here. Right here with Jesus. That takes an act of faith. And it takes an act of faith and desperation to ask again, when Jesus’ disciples can’t do anything.
But instead of being angry, the father says one of the most beautiful lines in the Bible:
“I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!”
When you feel so much disappointment in God because you keep asking and you never receive. You keep hoping for some sense of wholeness which continues to elude you…I think the only honest thing to admit is that a little bit of us dies to the idea that God really does bring wholeness. So we rationalize it in a million ways: We’ll be whole…in HEAVEN… Wholeness is a never ending process and we’ll never get there… When I am hurting and I ask for God to heal me, that’s me being selfish because I should just ask for God’s will be done, and not ask for anything besides that… Maybe it’s not God’s will for me to be whole. God doesn’t really heal people.
“I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!”
And then Jesus heals the boy. And leaves, and goes into a room. And his disciples ask him, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
And Jesus’ response is “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
It was by reading this line that I felt convicted of how fervently this father was praying. That each act of prayer cost him. Because to pray again, to ask again, meant to carry with it all the disappointments of the “no’s” and “not yet’s”. And when he was able to say it, to say, “I’m asking but I don’t even really believe you can give me what I’m asking for”, and “I’m asking, but I don’t even know what I am really asking for”: owning that despair, and bringing it before God, that Jesus heals his son.
The greatest mystery of all is that God works in our unbelief.
Some of you know that recently I’ve had to move through a huge emotional change in my life. And I was very grateful that while I was walking through it, I was surrounded by people in this church who supported me. I had people in my recovery who held me up. But at the very end, they were limited in what they could do. My healing had to come from Jesus himself.
As I was struggling, this passage came to me, and I shared it with Lacey. I want to share it with you today:
2 Timothy 1:11-13.
11 Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;
12 if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;
13 if we are faithless,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.
Jesus says to us, “Oh Faithless Generation, how long will I be with you?”
This reproach is actually an absolute promise: Jesus remains with us, because that’s who he is.