John J. Kilgallen | Nov 4 2008 - 11:26am | 0 comments
The first series of stories after the first passion prediction finishes with a story of the healing of a boy possessed by a demon. The beginning of this story continues Jesus’ descent from the mount of Transfiguration. The lengthy story is quite picturesque, with a number of places dedicated to direct address – always an engaging element in a story. What Jesus (and Peter, James and John) come upon at the foot of the mountain is an argument; the argument involves a number of people, not the least of which are scribes, i.e. professional interpreters of the Law of Moses. The arguing crowds are startled by Jesus’ arrival and hurry to him. The argument which concerns them centers on other disciples than those witnesses of the Transfiguration: "We asked your disciples to drive out a demon from a young boy and they could not drive it out". Jesus’ response is both energetic and piercing to the hearts of those around him: "You are people without faith! How long will I put up with you!" The faith in Jesus’ lament is faith in himself. This suggests that the source of demon expulsion is Jesus, not his disciples. Thus, Jesus orders that the boy be brought to himself; he does not leave him with his disciples. The story itself is filled with details about the sufferings of this demonized boy. This full description given in the story means to underline the challenge put to Jesus; can Jesus really overcome such a vicious, destructive demon? Again the question of messianic power is at stake here; will Jesus show himself to be messiah? The question of power is, however, replaced with another: does the father of this boy believe that Jesus can work this miracle? It is not so much the power of Jesus which Mark underlines in this story, though that power is amazing here. Rather, the question is do you believe that Jesus can do this miracle? If only one can believe in Jesus – then one has the key to accomplishing everything. Seemingly invincible powers can be shown to be vincible through faith in Jesus. Jesus is calling for faith in himself, a faith which seems almost unreasonable, given the evil that faces this father. But Mark is telling this story about faith to his readers; he is asking them about the completeness, the totality of their faith. They, like the father, can only plead, "Help my unbelief!" Constant is the call of God to believe in Jesus, and we read this in every document of the New Testament. The story then proceeds rather normally for a healing story. The suffering of the boy reaches great intensity; then Jesus commands the demon to leave him. The demon, knowing he owes obedience to the Lord, leaves with violence, in such a way that the boy seems to many to be dead. Only those who have faith in Jesus know that the boy is not dead at all. With a gesture of compassion Jesus himself takes the boy by the hand and lifts him up, lifts him to full life. The boy, no longer possessed, is a perfect example of what this Messiah can do: such perfection of the imperfect, such ridding the world of the powers of evil, means nothing less than that the kingdom of God has begun. Physical and moral betterment, the messianic gifts of the life-giving Messiah, are signs that the rule of God, not of evil, has begun. The call is to faith in this Messiah, who says in some astonishment, "If I can (cure)?" ’Absolutely I can! Have faith in me’. Jesus now goes into the ’house’, a symbol of revelation in Mark’s Gospel. Here, Jesus explains how it will be possible that the disciples will be able to drive out demons, to bring about the Kingdom of God to exist in this world. Prayer is the explanation, i.e. pray to Jesus through whom the cures will be done. Certainly no disciple will work a miracle on his own; it is Jesus, Messiah and Lord and Son of God, who alone does that. Pray to him! John Kilgallen, S.J.