Friday, August 7, 2009

I believe; help my unbelief!

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

I find it interesting that, shortly after the passage about suffering in the world and the cost of discipleship, we encounter the disciples in difficulty. They apparently cannot perform a healing - an exorcism. As Jesus comes upon this scene the scribes are disputing with his disciples. Jesus asks the scribes: ‘What are you arguing about with them?’ A note in my study bible tells me that Jesus, in his way, shows loyalty to his own - so in its way this question reflects his connectedness to his disciples.

I read also that the words "you faithless generation" are directed toward everyone. I quite like to read about this feisty Jesus who was not afraid to say what was on his mind. It always reminds me of his fully human and deeply vivid character. ' much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? ' But again, the issue of faith is reflected on from the perspective of discipleship upon which the gospel has been expanding in its recent passages. The disciples' ability to do or not to do something reflects on Christ himself.

The father's cry: 'I believe; help my unbelief!' is a reflection of the difficulties for all of us. My study bible has a note that the presence of doubt does not imply the absence of faith. It says, "Christ honors whatever faith we have and will increase faith when we sincerely desire Him." All things are possible because of the power that is released through faith. I think it's important to understand that this boy is a victim of this vicious spirit: it is trying to destroy him. Jesus specifically refers to ailments not mentioned by the father, as he commands the spirit to come out in front of the crowds: ‘You spirit that keep this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!’ Once again we have a referral to eyes that cannot see and ears that cannot hear: as spiritual metaphor, these are spiritual ailments that can be healed through faith. Once the child is healed, we are told that he is like a corpse. But Jesus lifts him - an allusion to the restoration of life itself, and resurrection. Healing from the spiritual perspective is the restoration to us of the abundance of life itself.

Finally, we have the great key to this passage: his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’ In other translations, this is written, "only through prayer and fasting," although in many ancient manuscripts, "fasting" is not included. Nevertheless, the point is clear - there are necessary things that accompany the development of faith in discipleship. Prayer is the number one method for this development. Just as in yesterday's passage, we are to go to our "high mountain apart," so to speak, and build the relationship to Creator through prayer that "helps our unbelief." It's necessary to take steps to shore up this relationship or relatedness within us. We all suffer from doubt. I know that I do; it is quite often that I experience a kind of personal doubt that is linked to lack of perspective on a problem. I find that when I am most negative, and suffering from depressive feelings, it's like an attack of a spiritual nature. I too, cannot "see nor hear" and truly, in that particular time, my perspective is unreasonable, even though on the surface I am supposedly looking at life with a kind of ruthless rationality. What I find correlated to my own personal doubt is a sort of extreme negativity, a perspective that is in fact not clear and not reasonable given my great blessings in my life, and I suffer, unnecessarily, emotionally when I am feeling this way. So, in this sense, I correlate this episode with this child so afflicted and tormented with my own experience of unbelief. In another sense, the heartbreak of the father who can do nothing to help his child, and his cry for help with his own unbelief, is a mirror to all of us who suffer with our friends and loved ones who are afflicted in some way or another, and we cannot see a way to help them. "Help my unbelief" becomes a cry for a way forward, a way to ask for insight on a problem - be it our own or heartbreakingly that of someone we care about. This passage gives me insight as to my own way forward, not simply through my periods of self-inflicted doubts and fears and depression, but also when I search for ways I can help others with problems I feel I am helpless to solve. Prayer is the way. In that I do have faith. My experience at this stage has repeatedly shown me it is so.

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