To the Church in Exile,
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today’s meditation is from Jane Gunningham:
The peace of Christ be with you. Our daily lectionary reading is Mark 9:14-29:
14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him.
16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.”
19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth.
21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.
28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”
This is one of my favorite passages in Mark—it is about the crash of reality and expectation, hope and disappointment, failure and deliverance.
Jesus and the three come down off the mountain of transfiguration, still glowing from that intimate and numinal experience, and walk smack dab into a scene of chaos and grief. A father, desperate for his beloved son, has taken a last ditch attempt at saving his life; I wonder if he had come expecting Jesus himself to be there, ready to help. I can almost feel the weight of his anguish as the disciples fail to free his son from the epilepsy-inducing demon. What little hope and faith he had at the start of his journey must surely have be leaking from him as he watched the disciples—who had a reputation for miracles—fail miserably, leaving him a dry and dusty soul.
I imagine the distress of the disciples, their confusion—we hear it when they speak to Jesus privately, asking, “Why could we not cast it out?”
I know that over the last few weeks, I have been swinging wildly between faith that God is greater than a virus pandemic, or an economic collapse, or even governmental inadequacies, and a dread sense of the inevitable. Here we are, approaching an Easter that seems likely to feel more about the dead among our friends and neighbors than about the resurrected Jesus.
But I take incredible comfort in this: Jesus is not only capable of restoring this boy, but He takes time to do the first task of restoring the boy’s father. Jesus comes into the scene completely confident in His capacity to heal the boy and drive out his demon. But His concern is for the heart-sick, grieving, and mostly hopeless man before Him.
“Anything is possible for the one who believes…do you believe?”
He offers the man a chance to say the shameful, desperate truth: “I’m grasping at straws.”
He says it in a way that opens the door for a defeated father to ask for the soul-deep help he truly needs in face of overwhelming fear and disappointment, “Lord, help me believe.”
We are facing a physical peril that will undoubtedly bring physical death to someone we know and love. That is the nature of pandemics in a fallen world. I think that there is a bit of a desperate edge to our prayers as we recognize how completely we, and our human systems are outmatched by our current situation.
In this moment, Jesus does not condemn us in our fear, or scorn what trembling crumbs of faith we can muster. Rather, He invites us into that profound, personal moment of restoration where He himself, Son of God, Glory of Heaven, reaches out to comfort us and help us believe.
Whether you are in quarantine, social distancing or going about your essential work, Jesus is with you, and is calling you to do the action that you can. For some of us, that will mean juggling the chaos of family and telecommuting, and doing none of it particularly well. Have faith. Trust that God’s grace is pouring into the cracks of our human plans and creating new gardens of compassion and action for the Kingdom of Heaven. For others it will mean hours alone, the anxiety of wondering what is happening out and around us. For you, this work: “This kind can only be driven out by prayer.” You are our spiritual front line; please join with Jesus in this battle. For some of us it means stepping back from our natural desire to protect ourselves, and accepting obvious risk to serve and save others. No matter how we feel, we are not helpless, because Jesus is our living redeemer.
Dear Jesus; Ruler of creation; show us Yourself. Not only Your transfigured glory, but Your profound compassion for our flagging hearts and grieving souls. Grant us courage to reach out and rise to the challenge of healing and helping, as did the disciples. Grant us understanding and persistence when we seem impotent in the face of our enemy. Remind us that when our faith is dying to ash, you blow it into new vigor through the movement of the Holy Spirit. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers. Amen
Peace in Christ,