Saturday, March 24, 2012

Saturday in Lent 4: From argument to prayer

Opening Sentence
Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Mark 8:34

Commemoration: Jonathan Edwards
O God, who by your Holy Spirit give to some the word of wisdom, to others the word of knowledge, and to others the word of faith: We praise your name for the gifts of grace manifested in your servants Jonathan Edwards and David Brainard, and we pray that your Church may never be destitute of such gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 107:33-43, 108

Lessons: Exodus 2:23-3:15, 1 Corinthians 13, Mark 9:14-29

Jesus, Peter, James, and John had just come down from the Mount of Transfiguration when they encountered “a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them.” The commotion was caused by a man who has brought his son to be delivered from a spirit which not only made him mute, but also threw him into convulsions. The disciples were unable to cast this spirit out of the boy, so the man went directly to Jesus to plead his case.

Jesus responded, somewhat incredulously, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.”

Like so many who encounter Jesus, the father seemed to be of two minds concerning the Lord’s ability to help his son. His request was conditional, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus immediately threw the responsibility of faith back to the man. “If you can!” Jesus replies, “All things are possible for one who believes.”

The boy’s father, however, had reached the limit of his human potential for faith. So, he cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” It is very important to keep this statement in mind when considering the context of Jesus’ statement immediately preceding it. Jesus was not saying to the man that he had the power in and of himself to do all things merely by believing. Rather, he was seeking to draw out of the man precisely the confession he made. He believed, yet his faith had limits because of a lingering spirit of unbelief which could only be dispelled by the power of God. In coming face to face with Jesus, God incarnate, the man finally realized that, perhaps even moreso than his son, he needed deliverance from an unclean spirit.

But neither that nor the boy's subsequent deliverance is the end of the story. What stands out in Mark’s account is a gradual, almost subtle, transition from a natural (carnal) orientation to a spiritual orientation. When Jesus first encountered the crowd, they were arguing with some scribes. At the end of the day, when his disciples asked him why they could not cast the unclean spirit out of the boy, Jesus replied, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Thus, the circle was complete. What began as an argument was transformed and resolved by prayer, with the key transition being the man’s desperate confession, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

The "kind” of spirit which “cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” was not a spirit which merely made the boy mute. Rather, it was a spirit which exploited the situation of the boy and his father to sow dissension and debate in order to prevent the father from dealing with his own lack of faith in the power of God to deliver his son, and himself, from a life of agony and pain. Only when Jesus intervened was the man able to make the confession which transformed the situation. What began as an argument ended as a prayer meeting.

(JAG)

Sweet Hour of Prayer