14When 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 convulsed the boy, 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 keeps 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.”
This is first of the “down from the mountain” stories in Mark. After the dazzling revelation of Jesus to a few disciples, they all return to the valley where an exasperated father with an epileptic son and stymied disciples with an expectant crowd are experiencing a meltdown. At the core of this healing story is a terse but decisive exchange between the desperate father and an impatient teacher:
Father: If you are able, please do something!
Jesus: If you are able! Get a grip and believe!
Father: I believe! And I pray your help in my unbelief at the same time!
And the boy is healed.
I’m taken aback by Jesus’ sharpness with the father. At first it sounds like those friends of ours who tell us “to have a little more faith and things will work out.” But that is usually spoken with reassuring pats on the shoulder and maybe an extra “bless your heart.” Here Jesus is urgently calling this father to get involved in the healing process.
Jesus does not go around doing healing as a spectator sport (I think he was particularly fed up with the curious but uncommitted crowds). He calls the father to stand with his son and look for God acting in this world right here and now. And I hear the father’s reply not as a contradiction but as a strong confession that in his best moments of belief he is continually praying for the unbelief still in him.
I have sat in many hospital rooms with loved ones who survived beyond all expectations and others who died despite many prayers. I don’t have the whole faith and healing thing all worked out. But I do believe that each of us is urgently called by Jesus to stand in there with all of the faith which we have been given. And we, too, respond, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
Lord, I stand with you in darkest valleys because the light has already shone. And I pray that you will lead me in that valley when I cannot take the next step forward without you.