(Un)Belief – Mark 9:23-24

Jesus has just come down from the Mount of Transfiguration with three of his disciples.  Now he finds the other nine stuck in a situation for which they can do nothing helpful.  It seems a father has brought his son to Christ’s disciples.  The symptoms the boy exhibits are similar to epilepsy, but are actually caused by a demon,  When the father asks Jesus if perhaps he can help, the following interaction ensues.

23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 

Isn’t this where we so often find ourselves?  We believe Jesus has the ability.  We pray to God, knowing he is all-powerful and all-good.  And still we doubt.  Our faith falls short.  We lack something in the area of true belief.

Eckhard Schnabel, in his Tyndale NT Commentary on Mark, describes the man, “He acknowledges his lack of faith, which is not an unwillingness to commit to Jesus’ power but an inability to believe in the face of immense odds, given that the nine disciples were unable to heal the boy.”

The reassuring thing is that this admission on the part of the father, “I believe; help my unbelief!” turns out to be enough of an expression of faith that Jesus heals the son.  The demon doesn’t come out without a fight, but it is a fight that Jesus cannot help but win.

We need to be willing to express our faith in Christ and the lack thereof.  Our belief and unbelief which somehow coexist in our torn and divided hearts.  It is not a rejection of Jesus so much as a wavering acceptance with a desire for the waves to calm down.  The doubts of the saint and those of the skeptic are of a different species entirely.

We believe Lord, help our unbelief!  And help he will.

 

A Prayer Prompted by Mark 8:14-15

Jesus and his disciples were in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee.

14 Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

Matthew 16:12 provides an explanation that Mark neglects.

Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

(By the way, there was a lot of overlap in the views of Herod or the Herodians as some manuscripts have it, and the Sadducees.  Rather than conflicting, these passages help explain one another.)

Jesus’s point is that the teaching of these groups was riddled with error, a problem that is common enough today.  Let’s ask for help in the face of that:

Heavenly Father,

Both the world and the church are filled with false teaching.  This is nothing new.  In the past there were many false prophets.  The church has continuously dealt with false teaching.  Then there are the views of the surrounding culture, which are very popular and very hard for us not to absorb.

Help us to keep our belief and doctrine pure.  Help us to not go astray as we seek to follow you.  Help us not to buy into the teaching of “another Jesus” as Paul so accurately puts it.  We want to keep ourselves from idols as John warns.

We need your Holy Spirit to teach us as we seek to learn from you.  As we open the Scriptures with a desire to obey, we need you to open the eyes of our understanding.  Help us not to seek teaching that scratches our itching ears.  Help us to desire the purest of spiritual milk.  Help us to long for the truth and keep us safe from the lies of the devil.

Finally, help us to be faithful when we know full well that we are often lacking in faith.

In Christ,

Amen

 

Don’t demand a sign – Mark 8:11-13

As was often the case, Jesus found himself in another argument with some Pharisees.

11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

The interesting thing is that Jesus did in fact give a number of signs pointing to his being the Messiah.  The Gospel of John is perhaps the clearest on this point.

The first was his changing the water into wine, after which John 2:11 says, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.”

After healing an official’s son, John 4:54 informs us, “This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.”  Later we read, “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him,” in John 12:37.

And of course, near the end of his Gospel (John 20:30-31) John writes, Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

The best way to understand Christ’s point in refusing the Pharisees the sign that they seek may simply be that he’ll be the one to decide what sign(s) he is willing to perform.  Their job and ours is merely to accept the signs that he gives. His ultimate sign was his resurrection, but of course they didn’t accept that one either.  We must do so if we are truly to be his followers.

When we deal with God, we need to maintain a healthy attitude of submission.  Making demands on him reverses the relationship.  He may do what we ask if he so chooses, but he is not obligated.  On the other hand we need to always be at his service.  If he makes a demand on us, it is only right.  The only right response is to do what he says.  This becomes easier the more we accept the fact that he knows and wants what is best for us and teaches us through this process.

Mark 7 Verse by Verse

Photo for Mark edited

Jesus will address issues of tradition and ceremonial uncleanness, which were very important to Jewish life.  He will also go out to Gentile areas and begin a ministry to people there.

Mark 07.pdf

Mark 07.mp3

A Prayer Prompted by Mark 7

Dear heavenly Father,

You are an all-powerful, all-loving, unchanging God. We, however, need to change because without change we will never experience growth.

Help us to see where we have fallen into spiritual ruts. Help us not to get stuck in the patterns of religiosity, in human traditions. Instead, let us learn to draw near to you in all reality, sincerity and truth.

Jesus has taught us by both word and example that our lives need to be grounded in the Scriptures.

Prevent us from either adding or taking away from your word, but rather establish us firmly in it.

And from that foundation, bring us to the place where our faith truly grows.

In Christ,

Amen.

 

Don’t search for a method – Mark 7:31-35

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 

Jesus performed many miracles, but it seems like Christ hardly ever did things the same way twice.  Chuck Smith (1927 – 2013), in his Word for Today Bible, saw this as an important point.  

Why did the Lord use such complicated and varied approaches?  Because he didn’t want to create a magic ritual and didn’t want to start a new tradition for doing things.  It should never be about a formula; it should be about the Lord and relying on Him.  He is God, and he does whatever He wants, in whatever way He chooses.

I had to learn this early in my Christian experience.  Growing up Catholic, we had a lot of set forms and traditions.  Some were helpful, most all were harmless, but some could be quite misleading, especially in the way we practiced them.  One of these potentially misleading practices was the Novena, special prayers repeated for nine consecutive days or weeks, which were often accompanied by a specific prayer request.  

Of course it’s fine and often necessary to pray for the same thing day after day, week after week.  The point is that the form – the novena, in this case – does nothing to help or hinder God’s answering of that prayer.

So here I was a teenager, newly awakened to the Christian faith.  A novena was scheduled in our local parish and I took part, putting my request out there before God and whatever saint or saints were seen to be of special help.  And God answered in a wonderful way.  My faith was encouraged.

Some time, a few years later, another big need arose.  Convinced that the novena was the cause of my past blessing, I took part again.  This time, however, no answer.  Not even to this day, almost 40 years later, now that I think about it.  My dire (or so I considered it) need went unmet.  The novena didn’t work.  

As Chuck points out, God doesn’t want us to fall into magic rituals.  Jesus healed often, but when he did, he did so in different ways.  He didn’t want us to imitate his method.  God still answers prayer, sometimes in absolutely convincing, remarkable ways.  And sometimes he doesn’t, or so it seems.  I suppose we should say that sometimes his answer is no.  But none of this depends on the method.  We don’t spit on our finger and touch someone’s tongue to make God work.  Nor do we say special novenas for nine consecutive days.  But we do cry out sincerely and with perseverance, while constantly seeking his will, so that our prayers might be perfectly in line with it.