Monday, February 17, 2014

True Faith Found in Weakness (Mark 9:14-29)

“This kind cannot come out by anything but prayer.”

This passage is—as much of Mark’s gospel—all about belief. However, it is most often seen as a text about the mechanics of exorcism: how does one wield power over the spiritual realm? To understand this story that way is to miss the point.

Jesus returns from the mountaintop to find His disciples arguing with some scribes. What was the argument about? They had attempted and failed to cast out a demon. At that point we can imagine that an argument over mechanics and authority broke out; the scribes arguing from a studied and learned position against the disciples’ authority and the disciples arguing from their experience and history with Jesus. The problem is that both sides could talk and argue all they wanted, neither side could accomplish anything.

When Jesus shows up, we meet the father of the possessed. When he clarifies the situation, Jesus is frustrated at the way everyone is still missing the point of His message. They all debate and debate but no one does anything, and in reality—on their own—they can’t. The father asks Jesus if He can help. Jesus answers that anything is possible to those that believe.

Here it is important to stop and consider Jesus’ response. He quotes the man in an ironic way, “If you can?” There is no question of Jesus’ ability. Jesus can. The statement that “anything is possible to him who believes” does not mean that those whose faith is strong enough can accomplish anything they “set their faith to” but rather those who trust Jesus can rest in the knowledge that that trust is not misplaced. Jesus does things for those who turn to and trust in Him.

So, when Jesus does not pray, but then says that such spiritual strongholds are only overcome through prayer, He means we need to rely not on our own power or authority (or even prayers) but rather we need to turn to God for help. The man responds well: “I do believe, help my weakness of belief!”

The scribes and disciples clearly had strong faith as well. The scribes had an iron-clad faith in their learning; the disciples had one in their experience. Both needed a “weaker” faith; one that helplessly turned to Jesus with a cry for help.

Strong faith—sometimes called “blind” faith—is highly valued these days. We find such faith thoughtlessly placed in systems and leaders/teachers who enable people to go through their lives with no thoughts, no doubts, no need to seek God. Instead we need to cultivate the weaker faith, a personal trust. The kind of faith that continually turns to Christ when we encounter situations and questions beyond our abilities. That should be our prayer:

“Help me in my unbelief!”

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