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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Today’s Reading | Mark 9:14–29

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 convulsed the boy, 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.” (NRSV)

As I read this passage, I found myself wondering about the initial encounter between the father of the demon-possessed boy and the disciples. I pondered why those close to Jesus hadn’t been able to help this imperiled boy and his desperate dad. What had they tried? What had they said? Had they not prayed during the process? Looking at the questions they asked in this passage, I noted that they started with “Why.” If that had been their line of questioning with the boy’s father (Why is this happening to you? Why is the demon manifesting itself in this particular way?), we can perhaps see why there weren’t able to help the family. They may have been trying too hard to reason out the answer to a puzzle, so they could solve it . . . instead of being with the people who were suffering.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking the disciples (or anyone else) for using God-given intelligence to address the issues that life presents. But the questions that Jesus asks here don’t begin with “Why.” He gathers data in his questions to the father and then really listens to the answers. We don’t see or hear him praying, but he must have, given his response at the end of the passage. Maybe the difference—and my supposition here probably says a lot about my own human frailty—is that Jesus didn’t put himself in the foreground of this picture and perhaps the disciples, at least unconsciously, did.

What I’m taking away from this story is a reminder to pray for others in distress before I rush in to help “fix” things. And if my assistance is needed, I want to be careful what questions I ask, how I ask them, and even more importantly, how I listen.

O God, you who heal us from what possesses and destroys us, help me to remember the power of a good question. Give me the humility to really listen, the inspiration to act appropriately, and the faith to believe in your power at work in the world. I ask this through Jesus, the compassionate one. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator,
   Center for Life and Learning

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