URC Daily Devotion Wednesday 21 February 2024

St Mark 9: 14 – 32

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 keeps 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.’  They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;  for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Who is healed here? The epileptic boy would have had no doubt. While we can rejoice for him, the position of the story in Mark’s narrative suggests there are many mental distortions to be healed as well as one physical one.

Jesus is struggling to get his disciples to grasp what he is really about. His clues prove too opaque for them. Our English translations lose one when we fail to notice that the Greek words Mark uses for the cured boy (rendered here as “lifted” and “able to stand”) are the ones his early Church readers were already using for Jesus’ resurrection. This is a foretaste.  In Lent we look towards Easter.

Meanwhile the father longs to be cured of his unbelief. Jesus does not oblige. He provides evidence of who he claims to be and leaves the father, as an imperfect human being, having to grow his faith on the basis of the evidence. But the father does learn that his degree of unbelief will not stop Jesus loving him and responding to his prayers. We can breathe a sigh of relief for ourselves.

Nonetheless the passage indicates that Jesus is far from indifferent to our degree of faith. He is as frustrated by the lack of faith around him as any tired URC minister. Jesus does expect his disciples to be striving to grow in faith, not content with our current lapses and the consequent limits on how Jesus can use us in this world.

Ministers and other church leaders might also find in this passage a challenge to consider when to admit to unbelief and when to wear the superhuman mask. Did the disciples have the honesty of the father when asked to cure the boy? When is exuding confidence a requirement of leadership?


Lord Jesus

Thank you for loving your children unconditionally – even me.

Forgive us when we frustrate you. You give us everything and we hardly notice. You offer us life in all its fullness and we are too content with half measures.

Increase our faith so that we can serve you and minister to others in your name.


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