When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and 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.” He 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.” And 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. Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It 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.” Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” When 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!” After 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.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.” Mark 9: 14-29
On one hand, Minnesota can boast about our success in education. Most recentACT scores reflect scores that place us number one in the nation. Apple Valley is a wonderful place for families with an abundance of opportunities for our children.
On the other hand, when we go deeper, there is a large disparity in the achievement gap. The achievement gap is the disparity in educational standards between the haves and the have-nots, the privileged with those less fortunate with an unsurprising correlation to socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity. In fact, Minnesota ranks towards the bottom when it comes to measuring the disparity.
Something I am proud of at Spirit of Life is our diversity in opinion. From many folds, we gather to worship. The more diverse we are the more opportunities we have to broaden our perspective and know God better. From our diverse points of view, some would point to the problem of the achievement gap is the breakdown of the family unit—that we just need to simply return to the basics of family values. Others would instead offer that our problem is in our social structures that have increasingly favored the privileged to the detriment of those with less opportunity.
But no one looks at a seven-year-old unable to read and blames them. We don’t say to them, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”—“re-locate into school district 196 where you will have a smaller class room size and more opportunities.” We could argue all day about the problem and solve nothing—and in our argument we are missing the point right in front of us.
This is the problem in today’s text. The disciples are debating with the Scribes. What do you think they are debating? What are they arguing about? Who do you think is winning? Who is right?
Our text opens today, “When they came to the disciples…” Who is they? We must look before to have an understanding what is going on. They is the inner circle-Peter, James, and John had just shared in a mountain-top experience. This is one of those mission trips—come to Jesus moments where it all becomes clear—literally. They had just witnessed the transfiguration of the Lord. These mountaintops strengthen our belief, our faith, our trust. The hard part about mountaintops is that we cannot stay there. It is from our mountaintops that we come down and we enter back into our routine.
And back into the routine, they enter back into the crowd… I picture this as one of those moments where we are so busy arguing with each other that we missed that mom and dad have come home. Upon noticing the return, with that guilt-ridden look on their faces, as the disciples turn to Jesus and he asks, “What are you arguing about with them?” Awkward! Here is where I point to my brother—it was his fault! I was ready for bed hours ago… He made me stay up…
It is in the middle of the crowd—in the argument—in the distraction—Jesus enters and asks, “What are you arguing about with them?” I picture as the disciples begin pointing to the Scribes, a voice cries out, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak.”
O man! Convicted. As they were arguing and talking past one another, they missed the point right in front of them. Whatever they were debating—what about the child!
The child suffering right in front of them, Jesus lets them have it! “You faithless generation! how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.”
At those times when we become so convinced in being right, in making our point, in showing how the Scribe is wrong, we can miss what is most important right in front of us.
As was the premise of a 2010 documentary, with the focus in the diagnosis, or even perpetuation of the problems, we find paralysis as we are waiting for Super-Man to come solve the problem.
And it is in the waiting that Jesus asks the father, “how long has this been happening to him?” The father replies, since childhood. The father pleads, “if you are able to do anything, have pity and please help us.” Or better translated, have compassion.
Jesus responds, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.”
The father offers the most vulnerable and beautiful response: “I believe, help my unbelief.” And there it is—faith. In this honest, vulnerable, desperate father who is seeking one thing—wholeness… It isn’t the Scribe who answers, or the disciples—both who were too busy debating…but in the desperation of a parent who says, “I believe, help my unbelief.”
We live surrounded by uncertainty. Each day we share is a blessing. Every breath is a gift. And we all have faith. We all have faith in something. But this father…he gets it.
It reminds me of a story of a man being chased by a bear. And as he is running, he comes to the edge of a cliff. As he looks over the cliff, he sees a branch. If he does nothing, his certainty is that he is going to die. At this point, it doesn’t matter how strong or timid he is. It doesn’t matter if he jumps to the branch, or he slides to the branch full of doubt. What matters is the strength of the branch.
It is in our uncertainty, our doubts that we grow. It is why I often find the best answer is in the questions. As we are working with our confirmation class, I care so much that we create a safe place to express and live in our doubts. It is in by entering into our questions and being honest about our doubts that we find faith. It is in saying I believe, help my unbelief that we learn it is not about my strength or my well-crafted argument, but it is here that we find trust. It is here that we can see Jesus enter the crowd and share that it matters how we care for one another.
It is here that we can learn a lot from our children. For if we play this out in trusting in ourselves, we can begin arguing like disciples and Pharisees. And at our worst, we can become like the Miami Dolphins locker room. It is when we count on our own strength, we identify with “Incognito.” And it couldn’t be more poetic that the name is “Incognito” which means-“To have one’s true identity concealed” or “an assumed, false identity.”
Instead, may we learn the Olivet Eagles from Olivet Middle School. (Watch link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ejh_hb15Fc)
The script couldn’t be written better when we consider that we go from Incognito to the vulnerable and amazing witness of a kid named justice. From Incognito—wearing a mask, we find justice—righteousness. We can see this in the wise words of Justice Miller who didn’t get it at first…but he learns what it is all about sharing, “I went from being someone who cared about myself and my friends to caring about everyone.” When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”
I believe Jesus is saying to them, it is in prayer that you trust in me. It is in prayer, that you have faith. For prayer as belief is not passive, but it is dynamic. In our prayer, we are not waiting for Jesus to come down from the mountain-top, but instead we can find the presence of the holy, we can sense the power of the Spirit, and we participate through listening and responding.
As the disciples were struggling. The ones that were on the mountaintop were struggling and trying to understand what this means to be risen? The ones in the crowd struggle with hearing about what is going to happen. We can look back, hear the teaching, but it is hard to believe without the cross. But in the cross, we find that our response is not in what we do for God, but what God does for us. It is in the cross that we find what matters is the branch. And it is in our trust—faith that we respond. It is in faith that we give freely. This is stewardship—a stewardship that is not based on how we feel…for if we base it on how we feel—it becomes focused on us…What about next week? Feelings can be deceptive. It is faith that we live, despite how we feel—acting in what we know.