“Prayer, For Others”

“Jesus Heals a Possessed Boy

As they came towards the disciples,
they saw a large crowd gathered around them,
and scribes disputing with them.
Immediately the crowd saw him,
they were utterly astonished.
They ran up to him and warmly welcomed him.
The reaction of astonishment was unexplained. It would perhaps have been more fittingly connected with the preceding narrative (and may have been so at an earlier stage of the developing tradition) or at the conclusion of the incident.
He asked them. “
Why are you arguing among yourselves?”
Someone from the crowd answered,
“Teacher I brought my son who has a dumb spirit along to you.
Whenever it seizes him, it convulses him;
he foams and grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid.
I told your disciples to cast it out,
but they were not strong enough.”

{Symptoms matched a severe case of epilepsy. Mark and the crowds interpreted it as a case of possession, and it was included here in Mark’s narrative on that assumption.}

In reply he said to the crowd,
“Faithless generation, how much longer shall I be with you?
How much longer shall I put up with you?
Bring him to me.”
They brought him to him.
Jesus saw the crowd’s faithlessness as an expression of the power of evil embedded in the culture. Confronted with it, Jesus reacted with deep emotion. The faithlessness in question was an issue not simply of lack of faith in the person of Jesus but more specifically in his message. The father’s bringing the boy to Jesus expressed some embryonic faith in the person and power of Jesus.
Immediately the spirit saw him, it convulsed him,
and threw him to the ground
where he rolled about frothing at the mouth.
He inquired of the father,
“How long is it that this has been happening to him?”.
He said, “From his childhood.
It has thrown him into fire and into water to destroy him.
The problem of faithlessness had been endemic in Israel from its beginnings. People would not entrust themselves with faith and hope to the vision of God’s Kingdom. Unchecked, its eventual outcome would be the destruction of the People.
But if you can, have mercy on us and help us.”
Jesus said to him, “This ‘If you can’.
Everything is possible to one who believes.”

{Man’s own lack of strong faith seemed to doubt Jesus’ capacity to confront and to overcome the evil. Lack of faith that things could change, the stubborn maintenance of the “status quo”, prevented the hearing, and spreading, of Jesus’ message. Jesus said to him, “This ‘If you can’.
Everything is possible to one who believes.”}

The boy’s father cried out immediately and said,
“I believe. Help my unbelief.”
For Mark at this stage of the narrative, the father’s struggle to believe became the symbol of the disciples’ inherent resistance. His prayer became a basis of hope, if only it could have become the disciples’ prayer.
When Jesus saw the crowd come running toward him,
he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying,
“Dumb and deaf spirit, I command you,
Come out of him and enter him no more!”

{Jesus’ explicit identification of the evil spirit as the spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing left no doubt about the nature of the evil oppressing the disciples (and Israel).}

Shouting out and convulsing him, it left him.
He became like one dead,
so much so that many said he had died.
But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up,
and he stood upright again.
Extreme need was no problem to Jesus, provided there was faith. The apparent corpse became able to stand.

{“What could rising from the dead mean?”
Mark developed the reflection in an endeavour to probe even more deeply the impasse of the faithlessness precisely of the disciples.}

When they went into the house,
the disciples asked him when they were alone,
“Why could we not cast it out?”
And Jesus said to them,
“This kind can be cast out by no other means than by prayer.”

“This kind can be cast out by no other means than by prayer.” The mind can heal the body, but the body can not heal the mind. In this prayer is powerful when one or more are gathered together. Jesus believed and had the faith to heal. He also led others to this mighty faith.
The focus of the narrative had not been Jesus’ ability to cast out demons. Indeed, Mark made no reference to any reaction of wonder or gratitude by the witnessing crowd. The focus was on the disciples’ impotence: Why could we not cast it out?
When Jesus had sent the disciples out on mission, he had given them authority to cast out devils – and they had successfully done so.

Mark 9:14-29

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