Parallel Texts: Matthew 17:14-20; Luke 9:37-43
When Jesus, Peter, James and John returned to the other disciples after the transfiguration, there was a dispute in progress; the teachers of the Law were arguing with the disciples. The people in the crowd see Jesus and come running to Him. “What are you arguing about” He asks, but before they could answer a man steps up and begs Jesus to help his son who was possessed by an impure spirit. Mark does not record for us what the argument was about.
The man goes into a fair amount of detail regarding his poor son’s plight, and tells Jesus that His disciples on the scene were unable to drive the demon out of the boy, and asks Jesus to do it. Jesus’ answer is puzzling:
“You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”
Mark doesn’t elaborate on what Jesus was referring to here. When the spirit saw Jesus, it went wild within the boy.
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
The demon is going crazy in the boy, people are watching, nobody has answered his previous question, and yet Jesus seems as cool as a cucumber. That poor father tells Jesus of the horrors of the boy’s life, can you imagine what that must have been like? Then the man says something perfectly reasonable, but Jesus doesn’t seem to think so. “If you can do something.” Nobody else had been able, but Jesus isn’t just anybody else!
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Everything is possible? Really? Do you believe that? Why am I so often told so much about what can’t be done?
Well the man made a snap decision: He was going to believe; he even realized that he might need help moving forward, but he was going to start believing right then and there.
Jesus drove out the demon right then and there.
As I read this, I see that we have come face-to-face with one of those moments when we need to ask ourselves if we really believe that what we believe is really real.
Well, do we?
The disciples ask Jesus why they had been unable to drive this spirit out of the boy, and Jesus seems to give an almost nonchalant answer: “This kind can come out only by prayer.” What did Jesus mean by this remark?
The text doesn’t say.
I’ve read commentaries in which the author professes to know exactly what Jesus meant by that, and while confidence is all well and good, the truth is that we can only speculate and wonder.