Readings: Jas 3:13-18; Ps 19; Mk 9:14-29
A lot of questions, a lot of pain, a lot of confusion, and more than a little chastisement in today’s Gospel passage. And it all seems to stem from a lack of faith.
If you’ve ever had a seriously ill child, this incident described by Mark will certainly strike home. Is my faith strong enough? Are my prayers good enough? Will God do as I ask, or will I hear the same critical words Jesus leveled at the disciples?
“How long will I endure you?” [Mk 9:19]
Hard words…hard words indeed…especially since this all occurred right after the Transfiguration. Jesus comes down from the mountain, from an encounter with His divinity, and walks right into a boiling, very human conflict among disciples, scribes and the crowd. But this is the ministry for which He was sent. He must do the Father’s will, he must teach and heal.
The disciples are unable to drive out the spirit plaguing the young boy. As soon as Jesus rebukes the disciples for their weak faith, He encounters the same weakness in the distraught father: “…if you can do anything…help us.” [Mk 9:22]
“If you can…” Jesus repeats the man’s doubt-filled words. Do you sense Jesus’ exasperation? What do you mean, “If…” There’s no “if” when it comes to faith. What happens when we toss the “if” aside? Jesus tells us: “Everything is possible to one who has faith.” [Mk 9:23]
The boy’s father obviously heard, and he utters those odd words: “I do believe, help my unbelief!” [Mk 9:24] Odd words because they’re so seldom heard, and display a truth often forgotten. Yes, Lord, I believe, but I know that faith comes not from me. Faith is a gift. Only through You can I have the faith that moves mountains, casts out demons, heals the sick.
Yes, Jesus, "help my unbelief!" It is these words that separate the father of this boy but from the disciples. It is this prayerful plea that shows he understands the divine source of what little faith he has.
How did Jesus put it when the disciples ask why they couldn’t drive out this evil spirit? “This kind can only come out through prayer” [Mk 9:29].
The father prays – “help my unbelief” – and Jesus takes him seriously. He acts, and He heals. Jesus comes down from the mountain and walks among the poor, the sick, the forgotten, the outcast. He admonishes, He teaches, but He always heals with divine mercy, for mercy is merely the manifestation of God’s love.
Brothers and sisters, in His mercy God promises us healing and forgiveness. If, like the boy’s father, we pray with expectant faith, He will free us from all that oppresses.
But prayer demands a slowing down of life; for only then can we let go of all that the world places between us and our God.
Let’s contemplate today what this father prayed – “I do believe. Help my unbelief.” – and make these words our own in prayer, so we, too, can trust in God’s unfailing love and mercy.