[Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J., Assumption Chapel. Mk. 9:14-22. Feb 24, 2019]
In our Gospel for today, a father brings his son to Jesus. The boy appears to have something like epilepsy. During a seizure he falls to the ground, foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. But the Gospel says this is more than a natural ailment. The boy is possessed by a demon.
When Jesus arrives on the scene a great crowd is already gathered. People there, young and old, simple and learned, including scribes, were arguing among themselves. The disciples had tried to extirpate the demon from the boy. But they failed. Their failure was a disappointment to the father, who truly loved his son and wanted him cured; it was a curiosity to most of the onlookers, but to the scribes, it was something of a triumph. Protecting their own position of influence with the people, the scribes were happy that Jesus’ disciples had not succeeded, and were possibly telling the disciples that they were presumptuous even to have tried. They were probably even chiding the father for bringing the child to the disciples. And the people, including the disciples, were reacting.
Now, however, with Jesus himself on the scene, all eyes, including those of the scribes, focus on Jesus “with awe” (Mk 9:15). He asks why they were arguing among themselves. So the father explains the sorry predicament of his son, how he had brought him to his disciples, but how his disciples had failed to exorcise the demon. The crowd, including the gloating scribes, echoes the father’s explanation. “Yes, Lord, your disciples failed.” Jesus responds to the crowd: “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you?” (Mk 9:20). He addresses their lack of faith, their cynicism, their interest only in dramatic spectacles, their lack of genuine concern for the possessed boy, their lack of belief in him and in his mission to save human beings from their sins and from their demons. But he responds to the sincerity of the father and to the suffering of his son. He looks at the boy with compassion.
Feeling Jesus’ eyes pierce though the boy to itself, the evil spirit reacts violently throwing the boy “into convulsions, so that he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth” (Mk 9:19). The father relates to Jesus that this demon has tormented his son in this manner from childhood, casting him even into fire and into water to destroy him. His love for his son mixed with his weariness at battling the demon for years and the disappointment of his disciples just having failed to exorcise the demon, he says, “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” That was not a polite or humble, “Kung pwede lang po…kaawan mo po kami,” but a mild manifestation of doubt in desperation that Jesus even had the power to help. “If you are able to do anything, please do it in your kindness and compassion.” It is not lost on Jesus: “If you are able..?! All things can be done for one who believes.” (Mk 9:23). Hearing this, the father responds in faith, and searing honesty, “I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief” (Mk 9:24).
Impressed by this honest manifestation of faith, Jesus commands, “You, spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you: come out of him and never enter him again” (Mk 9:25). The demon reacts violently to Jesus’ command. It convulses the boy terribly, and throws him to the ground. But it cannot disobey the Lord’s command. It leaves the boy, leaving him as if he were dead. But Jesus takes the boy by the hand and restores him to his father.
The disciples then ask Jesus why they had not been able to exorcise the demon. Jesus replies. “This kind of demon can only come out through prayer” (Mk 9:29).
In the face of the demons that we experience in our world, our Gospel today invites us to faith in Jesus. And to prayer. Faith is not possible without prayer; enduring faith is not possible without constant prayer. When we believe that the demons without or within are too powerful – avarice, lust, pride, hatred, hypocrisy, infidelity – when the demons convulse us, throw us to the ground, deprive us of our dignity, corrupt our inner core, our Gospel invites us to approach our Lord and Messiah saying, “I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.”