Today’s gospel was a story I had almost forgotten from Mark – Jesus comes down from the mountain with Peter, James and John and comes across a crowd. A man in the crowd has brought his son who has been possessed by a “mute demon” since childhood. The other disciples had failed to cast out the demon and the father says “…if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.â€ I can just see Jesus’ frustration in his response of â€œâ€˜If you can!â€™ Everything is possible to one who has faith.â€
Then the boyâ€™s father cried out, â€œI do believe, help my unbelief!â€ Jesus casts out the demon. The boy goes limp and folks start to say “He’s dead!” Then Jesus reaches out and helps him up and he’s fine. When asked by the disciples why they couldn’t cast out the demon he replies “This kind can only come out through prayer.”
I’ve been walking through this story all day. How many times have I felt like the father – “I do believe, help my unbelief!” I’m sure I believe… I think I’m sure I believe. Help me believe!
But the boy is the one that I seem to have entered into. The description of the spirit causing the boy to try to kill himself. Being trapped with this spirit hanging around. Maybe it just seemed that death was better than living with that blasted spirit. I’ve been to a place where I could at least understand that dying didn’t seem like the worst possibility. Fortunately, I was led to understand that it wasn’t me that I wanted to kill, but there were parts of my life that had to die or be cast out if I were to live. And, when these demons were cast out, I was empty. Something it was dead – not me, but maybe some things that showed on the outside.
And then Jesus took him by the hand and helped him up. I’m not sure I’ve felt that touch that graphically. I do remember sitting in a confessional, not even knowing what to confess, but just saying that I needed to move to a different place, to be more open to life. I felt dead inside. I could only see one other person in the room, but I knew that there was a third person in the room. I’m sure of it. Inside of 30 minutes, so much of my life seemed to go topsy-turvy and I made a hard left turn. As the demons began to flee, I surely need a hand to reach out and help me up. It’s been a long and winding road, but I really believe that Jesus took me by the hand, helped me up and set me on my way.
Afterward, in private, the disciples wanted to know why they couldn’t cast out the spirit. If it’s true that this kind can only come out through prayer – then I must also believe that the night when Jesus sat in the room with us, it must have been the result of prayer. Not only my prayer, but surely others had been praying as well.
It’s a scary prayer to ask for God to widen the parameters, to step in and heal, to bring life to the fullest. It’s also good to be able to say “I believe, help my unbelief!” I still have to repeat the sequence from time to time, but slowly I begin to trust and allow myself to be helped up.