By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 9:14-29
14 When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. 15When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. 16He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” 17Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; 18and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.” 19He answered them, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” 20And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it threw the boy into convulsions, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” 23Jesus said to him, “If you are able! — All things can be done for the one who believes.” 24Immediately the father of the child cried out, ”I believe; help my unbelief!” 25When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keep this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!” 26After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. 28When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”
There are three examples of faith demonstrated in today’s gospel reading. The first is exemplified by the crowd. They are drawn to Jesus, overcome by awe, but it’s a shallow faith. Jesus commands the unclean spirit to leave the afflicted boy, who then convulses and lies still. Though they came to witness a miracle, those in the crowd immediately reach for the more logical explanation: the boy is dead. They were attracted to something in Jesus, but in the end they are quick to chock all this belief up to a dead end spectacle, nothing truly miraculous to be had here.
The second example of faith is shown by the disciples. They are exemplars of a godly life, leaving behind their worldly possessions, their livelihoods, even their families in order to follow Jesus. Surely after such devotion to Christ, they have no need of further growth in the faith. We learn, however, that the disciples did not in fact have sufficient faith to cast out the demon from the child. In private Jesus explains why. This miracle required prayer. The implication is clear: if we are to be successful in performing the work that the Lord calls us to do, disciples of Christ must continue to humble ourselves in prayer, recognizing that we still need to grow in the faith, and plead with the Lord to help us. This is true for the apostles and it is certainly true for us.
Today’s reading even provides us with the words that we can use in such a prayer. They are the words of the father who provides the third example of faith, which, by the way, is the only faith which is rewarded by Jesus. The father cries: “I believe; help my unbelief!” No matter who we are, may this prayer always be on our lips.
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Andaman & Car, Nicobar Islands (Church of North India)
St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, Va.