Week 3. READ: Mark 9:14-29
Upon closer review, there is a lot of stuff to unpack in this story. Let’s get at it. When Jesus, Peter, James and John returned from their not-so-routine trip to the mountain, they found the other nine disciples embroiled in a conflict with some religious leaders. A crowd had formed according to 9:14-16. Because the rationale for the argument that is proposed in v. 17 that the disciples of Jesus could not drive out an evil spirit from a boy offers no reason for a dispute with the scribes, some scholars think that vv. 14-16 have been added by Mark to dramatize and widen the scope of the Jesus impact through this miracle.
On an aside, nothing constructive or helpful happens when we argue doctrine. The disciples had been given authority to drive out evil spirits (Mark 6:7) but could not accomplish anything when they allowed themselves to get sucked into a debate about religion. Such arguments rarely go anywhere productive and it is always about who is right or wrong. It is a waste of time to argue about God.
Instead, it is our way of life, our attitudes and behavior that is a more powerful witness to who we are in Christ Jesus. Words do matter and they are powerful in our witness to our faith and its impact on our life when we in fact live out the love and mercy of God. At that point, our invitation to come and see in worship is authentic: our words and actions line up.
An aspect of this story that causes some pause is that it seems that the boy suffers from epilepsy. This disease is treatable with medicine today. We would not classify epilepsy in any way as the work of an evil spirit. However, this story is 2000 years old and the events in the life of the boy were interpreted as they best understood.
The presence of faith, or the lack of it, is the central message of this story. The response of the crowd that “ran” to Jesus speaks of the electricity among people where ever Jesus showed up. Who are the “faithless” ones? Did he mean the scribes, or his disciples or the boy’s father? It is unclear. A comment by Jesus that is easy to miss is his query about “how much longer” (v. 19)? Behind this lays his frustration as well as a reminder of this call and mission from God.
When the child saw Jesus, a seizure happened. It is described as the reaction of the unclean spirit when it comes into Jesus’ presence. In desperation, as a father of a child suffering with this demon since childhood, he begs Jesus, “If you are able, please set my son free”. Was this a challenge to garner a response from Jesus, to prod him to action, or an expression of doubt? Jesus replies in his characteristic way of reversing a question or a comment back on the challenger: If you are able! – All things can be done for the one who believes (v. 23). In other words, Jesus says that the question of whether or not his son can be set free is if he as the petitioner believes this can happen. Jesus is evoking faith.
Bill is a good example of one who owns his own life and uses his new life to help others. In 2008, Bill was diagnosed with spinal meningitis and was hospitalized for four months. As a result of his illness, Bill experienced a significant brain injury which impacted him mentally as well as physically. As a crane operator in Texarkana, Arkansas, he faced a long road of rehabilitation but his life would be forever changed.
His mom, Jackie Haynes, who had been with him throughout his hospitalization, brought him to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago for six months in the fall of 2008. After that, Bill did out-patient rehabilitation work for an additional six to eight months. Finally, in late 2009, Bill was able to go back to his home in Arkansas and live independently. Knowing that he could not operate heavy equipment which he had done his whole work life up to that point, Bill re-entered college and graduated in May of 2013 with a B.A. degree in social work.
Life changes continued in Bill’s life as his mom was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and he moved to Rockford, Illinois in July 2013 to provide care. Jackie Haynes had served on the church council when I was called to Grace Church in November 2006. Her fight with cancer was short in some respects and felt long in other ways. Through many visits, conversations, Bible reading and prayer, Jackie, Bill and I walked this road together. Finally in April 2014, Jackie went to be with the Lord.
Jackie was a strong person of faith who became a bridge to Grace Church for Bill. While she was physically able, Jackie came to healing prayer services at Grace. Cancer is an insidious disease that triggers my angry bone when I see it target people with big hearts, overflowing with compassion and still so much to live for. Jackie lost the fight with amazing graciousness. She is at peace in the presence of God.
In the fall of 2014, Bill was ready to return to the working world having received a job at RAMP (Regional Access Mobilization Project) in Rockford. While Bill faces the challenges of his brain injury on a daily basis like losing his balance and falling down, not thinking right and has a big issue with short-term memory loss, Bill has been a real asset to many other people with brain injuries. He has fought for them in court, worked to get his clients the benefits they need and deserve, and even helped us at Grace get our parking lot up to code for handicapped parking signage.
When it comes to life and faith, Bill still experiences ups and downs yet pushes through with God’s help to work for what is just and right for his clients. He gives the best he can to the vocation to which he is now called. His witness to his faith by how he lives his life and shares his love of the Lord where possible has resulted in some new faces joining Bill in worship: Patty and Mike, Debbie, Rob and Bob. God uses us whoever we are and with whom we live, work and serve. Bill has a circle of people that he encounters in life and only he can reach with the love of the Lord. This is true for each one of us. Bill has embraced his challenges and opportunities and as a result, Jesus’ love for the world is released through Bill to his acquaintances. Lives are being impacted for good and for God.
Questions to Consider:
- How comfortable are you with praying? What questions do you have about prayer? Why do you pray?
- Do you prefer to use written or memorized prayer, spontaneous prayers or silent meditation? Because prayer is both speaking and listening, which aspect do you prefer? Who comes to mind as a role model of prayer for you?
- What would be helpful for you to give you greater confidence in your life of prayer?
- What is your take away from today’s study?