Homily for February 20th, 2017: Mark 9:14-29.
The boy who is brought to Jesus by his father is possessed by “a mute spirit,” Mark tells us. He is evidently both deaf and dumb, unable to speak. The symptoms Mark describes are consistent with what today would be called epilepsy. Jesus lived in a pre-scientific age. Illness was normally attributed to demons. That is not entirely false. Illness and death were not part of God’s original plan of creation. They entered the world as a consequence of human sin. And it was human sin that opened the door for the Devil and his dark power.
Jesus’ cry, “O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?” reminds us of Jesus’ sigh before the healing of a deaf man in chapter seven of Mark’s gospel, which we heard just ten days ago. That sigh, and Jesus’ words here, are expressions of the Lord’s grief over the consequences of human sin – in both cases illness.
The father’s detailed description of his son’s condition shows that he is in anguish over the boy. “If you can do anything,” the father concludes, “have compassion on us and help us.” Quoting the father’s own words, “if you can,” Jesus assures him: “Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Whereupon the man bursts out: “I do believe, help my unbelief!” His prayer for greater faith shows that he still has doubts.
As the story goes on, it becomes clear that even this imperfect faith is enough. It enables Jesus to cast out the demon and restore the boy to good health. Jesus’ words, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again!” show that the healing is permanent.
What is the story’s lesson for us? It tells us that what opens the door to God’s action is faith. And it assures us that this faith need not be perfect. Finally, the story encourages us to pray with the desperate father of this boy: “Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief!”