Now these three disciples with Jesus rejoin the other disciples. All is not well. To begin with, scribes are arguing with disciples (Mark 9:14, 16). We might think of scribes as professors of theology who represent religious authority and enforce established orthodoxy. These weighty authorities are challenging the disciples. A crowd has gathered to enjoy the spectacle.
Jesus asks what’s going on. Neither scribe nor disciple answer; instead, a man from the crowd responds. Understandably so: his son suffers from a destructive spirit (vs. 17-18a). He brings his son to Jesus for liberation but finds only some of his disciples. To his dismay and the delight of the professors, the disciples prove ineffective. They can do nothing (v. 18b).
In a rare burst of exasperation, Jesus asks, “‘O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?’” (v. 19a, English Standard Version). Why this outburst? As his disciples, Jesus calls us to live as witnesses to God’s love by sharing with us his ability to liberate people from destructive spirits (see Mark 6: 7, 13). Having failed to do so, we have discredited his witness to the power of God’s liberating love, have strengthened the hand of a destructive religious orthodoxy that denies that love, and have left as victims of evil an anxious father and his tormented son. All this because, at bottom, we ourselves lack faith in him.
Jesus, beloved son of Father (as three of his disciples were just reminded), asks for the boy (v. 19b). While we denied the power of God’s love, there is no way Jesus will or the destructive spirit can—no matter what any weighty authority might otherwise claim.
The boy’s father, uncertain but desperate, begs Jesus to help—if he can (v. 22). Jesus, in frustration, repeats the father’s question, “If I can!” He then assures the boy’s father that, to all who know God as compassionate Father as Jesus does, no limit exists to the liberating power of his love (v. 23). The father’s beleaguered response: “‘I believe, help my unbelief!’” (v. 24). Jesus does—to the boy’s good, his father’s relief, and Father’s glory (vs. 25-27).
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