Mark 9: 14 – 29 Jesus heals a boy possessed by an impure spirit
When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
‘What are you arguing with them about?’ he asked.
A man in the crowd answered ‘Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 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.’
‘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.’
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.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, ‘How long has he been like this?’
‘From childhood,’ he answered. ‘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.’
‘ “If you can”?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’
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.’
The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, ‘He’s dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’
He replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer.’
* * *
What a disaster! The disciples have tried and failed to cast out an impure spirit from a boy. They are under attack by the teachers of the law. They have lost so much credibility that when Jesus asks them, ‘What are you arguing with them about?’ it’s not the disciples who answer, but a man in the crowd.
The theme running through this whole passage is faith.
The disciples lack sufficient faith.
The teachers of the law are present to challenge Jesus; you could almost say they are organisers against faith in Jesus.
Jesus makes it very clear that lack of faith has prevented the disciples from casting out the impure spirit. ‘You unbelieving generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?’
The father of the afflicted boy has just a tiny amount of faith; he knows it isn’t enough, and he begs Jesus to accept it and make it sufficient.
Finally, the disciples realise that they have fallen short. When they ask Jesus what went wrong, he replied, ‘This kind can come out only by prayer.’
In this passage, Mark is describing a vital step in the training of the disciples. They are going to be Jesus’ representatives in the world, responsible for continuing his work of healing, forgiving, teaching and cleansing. To do that requires faith.
Ah, but what is faith?
This story tells us.
Faith means trusting Jesus. It may be for forgiveness, or for healing or for power to fulfil his call to us.
At its least, it is to be like the father of the possessed boy. ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’ The really important thing about his exclamation is that he realises his faith is weak and he asks Jesus to strengthen it.
The disciples had been trying to cast out the impure spirit in their own strength. ‘This kind can come out only by prayer,’ Jesus tells them. What he means is that they must acknowledge their own helplessness in the face of such challenges and ask God by prayer to make up the shortfall. Such prayer will deepen their relationship with God, and increase their faith.
Our faith in Jesus strengthens whenever we turn to him in humble prayer. Unless we do that, we cannot know him and we cannot play our part in bringing about God’s kingdom. Prayer is coming to the Father through our relationship with Jesus his Son.
So, in this passage Jesus is training his disciples to have faith, and to use their faith to do God’s work in the world.
But stop a moment.
Who has responsibility for taking part in God’s work in the world in the 21st century?
We do, of course, and this teaching is just as relevant to us today as it was for the disciples.
Faith is at the core of service. It is always God’s power that successfully confronts evil, not ours. God can channel his power through us if we have faith in Jesus. Our faith in Jesus grows as we pray, because we are spending time with him.
And how much need there is in the world! How much need there is in my neighbourhood! We need to be diligent in prayer, listening and being obedient to what the Holy Spirit tells us. We need to pray constantly, in the expectation that God will answer our prayers. Then our faith will grow and we will start to meet some of those needs.
Thank you that you are faithful and hear us when we pray. Thank you that we can have a living relationship with Jesus. Thank you that you offer us the opportunity of deepening our faith and taking part in the ministry of Jesus.
In Jesus’ name, Amen