(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.

 

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

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.

 

Mark 6 Verse by Verse

Photo for Mark edited

This week we will see two parallel themes. First, rejection of both Christ and of John the Baptist; then expansion – of Christ’s ministry by delegating his authority to his disciples.

Mark 06.pdf

Mark 06.mp3

Mark 5 Verse by Verse

Photo for Mark editedJesus casts out a “Legion” of demons, then heals a woman who is unclean due to chronic bleeding.  Finally he raises a 12-year old girl from the dead.  Christ’s power extends over demons, sickness and death.

Mark 05.pdf

Mark 05.mp3

Mark 3 Verse by Verse

Photo for Mark editedJesus begins to attract more attention, both positive and negative.  His family begin to think he is crazy.  Religious leaders accuse him of being under demonic influence.

Mark 03.pdf

Mark 03.mp3