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Mark 9:14-29

The Word of God

Unpublished

When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, ‘What are you arguing about with them?’ Someone from the crowd answered him, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.’ He answered them, ‘You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.’ And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You spirit that keep this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!’ After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘This kind can come out only through prayer.

Mark 9:14-29
  • Some thoughts on today's scripture

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    • This is a consoling Gospel scene rooted in daily life: a suffering child, a concerned parent, an awe-struck crowd, a little group of faithful disciples, a number of their opponents. The father’s request to Jesus took the form of a tentative prayer. “If you are able to do anything have pity on us and help us”.
    • Jesus elicited an act of faith and deep prayer from the father. ”I believe, help my unbelief.” Jesus then cured the boy. He later taught his disciples privately that there is no other way to deal with some situations than prayer.
    • Simone Weil, a French-born Jewish philosopher, died aged 34 in 1943. During her final illness, someone said to her, “I can only pray for you”. Simone answered, “Why do you say, ‘only’. That’s the best thing you can do for me”.
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  • Some thoughts on today's scripture

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    • The poor father’s cry, ‘I believe, help my unbelief’ is one of the best-loved human statements in the gospels. Does it express the reality of your own struggle to believe? It has been said humorously that most of us are atheists before breakfast, but perhaps we are half-atheists for most of the day? It is also said that most people live lives of quiet desperation. When you experience things getting beyond you, do as the father did and bring your problems to Jesus. Be honest with him; beg his help. You will, he promises, find rest for your aching heart.
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    • ‘I believe, help my unbelief’. How often have I been that father, struggling to believe? Have I ever had some sort of ‘demon’ in me, an addiction or an unfreedom in my life and experienced the sense of imprisonment and being out of control? This is the Jesus who understands and is longing to be there for me in my misery.
    • Have I had an experience of being set free, liberated by the Lord?
    • This story in Mark is telling us very clearly that all we need to bring is the little faith that we have, with all its doubts and limitations. We are met by Jesus just where we are. I believe Lord, help my unbelief.
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    • I become part of the crowd involved in this disturbing incident, listening and watching. Jesus sees the disciples as ‘faithless’ and stresses the need for faith and prayer.
    • Given the failed attempts of the disciples, the father’s faith was hesitant, but Jesus elicits a stronger affirmation of belief and responds to his faith-filled plea.
    • Is there a message here for me, too?
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    • The desperate father in this passage should be a source of great encouragement to all of us who struggle with our faith. He called on Jesus with the shreds of what belief he possessed, and gave us that mighty prayer, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Jesus responded instantly.
    • If Jesus were to ask me “Do you believe?” what would I answer?
    • Karl Rahner, the Jesuit theologian, writes, “In the midst of our lives, of our freedom and our struggles, we have to make a radical, absolute decision. And we never know when lightening will strike us out of the blue. It may be when we least expect to be asked whether we have the absolute faith and trust to say yes.”
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    • Imagine this scene; notice the hubbub and commotion of the crowds. There seems to be much argument, dispute and exclamation – but little wisdom. What Jesus says needs to be taken into each heart, one by one. I take this time of prayer to stand apart from 'the crowd', to listen to Jesus who speaks to my heart.
    • Jesus wants to expel anything that keeps me from sight or hearing, any spirit that threatens my peace of mind. I pray for myself and for those who are dear to me, that we may receive more fully the goodness of God as we pray for one another.
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    • Notice Jesus’ impatience in this situation. In it we can find resonance with our own human impatience and also find the strength to persevere.
    • Doubt can be an important part of belief in God. It is honest. If there are no moments of doubt the space for us to grow in trust and faith is reduced.
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    • Here we find a distraught parent and a very sick child. But the disciples are also ‘sick’. From beginning to end this story highlights a major theme for Mark: the importance of faith in Jesus. Lord, life involves struggles and difficulties that sometimes leave me feeling powerless. Help my unbelief! May I never under-estimate the power of intercessory prayer.
    • Jesus’ disciples prove to be a disappointment. Lord, I sometimes feel let down and disappointed with the Church or its ministers. When I am discouraged, help me to look beyond the institution and its ministers. Let me turn in faith to you, O healer and giver of life.
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    • The last words of the this story have been a common prayer for so many people. We are a mixture of faith and unbelief. We pray from a combination of faith and doubt, on days when faith is dry and prayer seems useless. We can ask for help; we know we cannot exist on unbelief. In prayer we come as we are, with the different levels of faith, and pray for help. When we pray we are heard. John Henry Cardinal Newman prayed, ‘the night is dark and I am far from home, lead thou me on.’
    • There seems to be something in the spirits that recognised Jesus, realising that a new way of living was in prospect. I may resist Jesus in small ways, preferring to allow comforts and habits to keep my world arranged as I like it. With the father in the gospel I say, 'I believe; help my unbelief!'
    • Jesus listens to the deep desires of those who come to him in their need. He recognises faith and encourages it. I take time to express myself to Jesus and ask him to strengthen my faith.