Thinking about Faith (reflections on Mark 9)

The father didn’t know what to do. He looked again at his boy who stood with his head against the wall, slowly tapping it in time with some unknown song that played in his head. The boy had not spoken for weeks, consumed by some demon, some force which transformed the lilt and giggle of his voice into a growl. And the father was willing to do anything, to talk to anyone, to make his son better.

So, when he heard that Jesus, the teacher and miracle worker from Nazareth was in town, he had no choice but to take his son. His options were few. The boy needed healing. After all, when we need healing, we’ll try anything when a healer comes by — from bleeding our children with leeches to trusting the reputation of an itinerant preacher.

But when the father got to the place where Jesus was supposed to be, he found a group of ragged fisherman who claimed to be disciples of Jesus. “The master is on a short vacation,” this motley group said. “Why don’t you let us look at the boy.” The father wasn’t so sure, but he had traveled a long way and it couldn’t hurt . . . could it?

It was about this time that the religious professionals showed up in their robes and miters. They too had heard about Jesus, but they weren’t too sure about this upstart preacher. They weren’t impressed with his seminary credentials, the lack of theological education, his willingness to touch the unclean and hang out with the disreputable. So they too wanted to check out Jesus only to find this band of stinky fisherman. When they found out that these fishmongers were about to attempt a healing, they raised their eyebrows and sniggered to one another, “This we’ve got to see.”

Now the disciples there had gotten a bit ahead of themselves. They were coming off a great mission of preaching and healing, and they had recently seen Jesus perform some mighty miracles. But now they were on the spot, being asked to perform in front of a disbelieving crowd. The pressure was on and they knew they had to step up.

So they took the boy aside, had everybody move back, and started their song and dance. “In the name of God, we command you to be healed,” the disciples said.

Nothing happened. The boy sat there on the ground, banging his head in the dirt, and ignored everyone around him.

“Um . . .,” the disciples said. “. . . you must not have heard me. BE HEALED in the name of God!”

The boy responded this time. He began growling and foaming at the mouth. A convulsion came upon him and he straightened out like a two by four.”

“What do we do now?” one disciple whispered to another. “I don’t know,” he replied, “Do you have any ideas.”

Luckily for both the boy and the disciples, it was at this time that Jesus showed back up. He had been up on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, and was surprised to find this crowd of disciples, religious folks, and a bunch of other curious bystanders.

“Howdy boys,” Jesus said. “Um . . . do y’all want to tell me what’s going on here?”

That father couldn’t hold it in anymore “Look,” he said, “I brought my son to see you and these guys . . . ” His eyes rolled as he glanced at the disciples. “. . . these guys tried to heal him. But look at him now. He’s anything but healed.”

The father’s despair was clear in his voice. The boy began to convulse more, writhing on the floor and banging his head against the dry and dusty ground. Jesus looked at his disciples. “Don’t you guys get it?’ He turned to Peter. “Bring the boy to me.” He then turned to the father. “How long has the boy been this way?’

“Way too long,” the father replied. “I don’t know what to do. If you can do anything for him, I would appreciate it.”

Jesus paused for a second. “Do you believe?” he asked the man.

“I don’t know what to believe,” the man replied. “I want to believe. I need to believe. If it will make my son better, surely I can believe. But I don’t know if I can. Can you help me?”

Of course Jesus could, and Jesus did.

Brian McLaren shares in “Finding Faith” one definition of faith which says: “Faith is a state of relative certainty about matters of ultimate concern sufficient to promote action.”

Yet, the father in our story didn’t have certainty. What he had was a relationship, an ability to look at Jesus and say “I need you to have faith for me.” Certainty didn’t matter. The relationship mattered.

Which is why persons of faith need community. There are times when we struggle with understanding. There are times when we lose our way, drowning in despair and wallowing in pain. During these moments, these dark nights of the soul, faith seems hollow and insignificant.

But then the saints come to town. I will go through my semi-regular depression, fed up with church and God and life, and then Ms. Dorothy will come along: “I believe in you pastor. I’m having faith for you.” I may not have a clue what I’m supposed to believe in, but then Mr. Pat comes by: I’m thinking about you. Everything will be okay.”

John Wesley said that there is no holiness without social holiness, that participation in community is central to the life of faith.

Why are we so surprised to find that he was right?

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