Blogging Towards Sunday March 18th
What is faith? It’s a common question today in our culture in which many indentify themselves as spiritual but not religious. Is faith about an institution?; or is it about the God at the center of it all? Can you still doubt and have faith? Can you lose your faith when you struggle with the difficulty of believing? Today’s scripture passage wrestles with those questions in the context of a story about the remarkable faith of a father who radically loves his sick son, coming to Jesus for help.
After the magnificent mountaintop experience, or God moment that Peter, James and John had with Jesus, they return to the world below to confront misery, disease, and hardheartedness of humanity – but also its desperate hope.
Why are the scribes and the disciples arguing when Jesus and his posse of three friends arrive? What are they arguing about? Is it the disciples’ inability to exorcise the demon?; their failure as opposed to the scribes success and societal authority? In the narrative parameters of this story, the scribes and disciples are contrasted. While the disciples are those seeking to follow Jesus, to grapple with what God wants for us, the scribes embody the anti-God force which is about to become directly and terrifyingly visible in a demonic manifestation.
This story conveys the 4th exorcism story of Mark’s gospel. there is one at the beginning of each new section: 1 :: 1:21-28 [Jew adult]; 2:: 5:1-10 [Gentile Adult]; 3 :: 7:24-30 [Gentile female child]; 4 :: 9:14-29 [Jew male child]. Theses stories of deliverance, liberation and healing seem to be associated in a literary way with the point that Mark is trying to make about the identity and vocation of Jesus of Nazareth.
Scholars tell us that the boy in the text is undoubtedly epileptic, a disease which in the world view of the ancient world was commonly associated with the divine realm. It was inexplicable, seemingly coming out of nowhere. Whereas many pagans cultures thought that God gave this sacred disease, as a punishment for sin, or that only a god could give or take away such a condition; the Israelites saw it as associated with the demon world – the spiritual realm and power which sought to oppress, divide and destroy the world created by God. As you read through this text how are the different people oppressed and divided? The disciples?; the scribes?; the boy?; the father?; the faceless members of the crowd?
Jesus expresses frustration with the crowd whom he calls the “faithless generation.” Are they faithless because they don’t think Jesus can exorcise this unclean spirit? Or because they keep coming to him for miracles?
The story insists upon the fact that no one can chase off this unclean spirit. Jesus alone is strong enough to overcome the spirit that has overcome, and hurt this child for a very long time. But maybe the emphasis of this story is less upon the miracle, than upon the discussion that Jesus has with the father and then with the disciples.
The father is struggling to believe – to believe what?... that God still loves them after all these years of suffering? That Jesus can heal his son?; that he has come to the right person? What’s curious is his declaration (can you call it a confession of faith?): “I believe” … “Help my unbelief!” He’s at a precipice, making a radical choice for faith, asking Jesus to give him faith. It sure seems like he is overwhelmed by faith. He recognizes his unbelief and asks to be delivered of it. But then Jesus talks about the healing with his disciples: was the boy healed by faith [v23 all things can be done for those that believe]?; or by the power of prayer [v29 this kind can only come out through prayer]? Throughout the gospel some have been healed because of (by?) their faith; and others because of the faith of Jesus. What’s curious here is that Jesus doesn’t pray before he delivers the boy from the spirit, and then he says that you have to pray in such cases? What’s he getting at? The father, like the Syrophenician mom in Mark 7, seems to have enough faith to at least come to Jesus. How much faith does it take to have faith? Jesus talks about as much as a mustard seed Matt 17:20? How does that apply to this story and faith conversation?
· Many today say that they God that they knew as children no longer suffices for their faith today. What does that mean? Can you relate to it?
· How do you identify with the prayer of the father: “I believe, help my unbelief!”
· How do you find this passage to be encouraging for you; for our church?
· How is the Spirit of God inviting us to act or be through this text today?