After Jesus, Peter, James and John came down from the Mount of Transfiguration,
14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked.
17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” Mark 9:14-17
I know – the same argument as today, probably. Did the boy really have a demon, or did he have epilepsy? First of all, come on! Julius Caesar had epilepsy, or something like it, and the Romans all knew it was a disease and not a demon almost a century before this account. So, let’s take Mark’s word for it that it was a demon (and the Holy Spirit as a corroborating witness, remember).
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s focus on that father. That poor guy and his son! Who know how old the son was at this point, but he had had the demon since he was little. The family had probably gone out of their minds trying to find ways to help him. If they had lived in our day, they would have gone to one specialist after another, both medical and psychological. They would have tried a variety of drugs, treatments, and behavioral therapies, all to no avail. I suspect that this family had been drained of their resources over the years, financially, emotionally, spiritually – and that the boy himself had (as said of another patient of Jesus) “suffered much at the hands of many physicians.”
Now maybe this father comes to Jesus and the disciples in desperation. This will be their last chance. He’s run out of options, and has nowhere else to turn. Trembling with fear and his last ounce of hope, he comes to where he’s heard Jesus is – only to find that He’s out of the office for the day! He’s up on the mountain with some of the disciples! The best he can do for his son is hope that the disciples can do something for him – but they can’t.
Can you imagine this father’s heart at the end of that day? Can you imagine the tears falling from his eyes as he holds his precious son to keep him from being hurt as he falls in another convulsion? Can you imagine his sorrow and anguish that even this last hope has been empty and futile? Can you imagine his anger and resentment at the crowd that stands around, impassively and objectively arguing about whether or not the boy has a demon after all, totally ignorant of the toll this has taken on his whole family’s life?
And then, just as he’s about to pick up his son and take him home, along comes Jesus and Peter and James and John, fresh from the top of the mountain. Jesus asks, What’s going on? The father tells him. Jesus sighs, and commands the demon to come out. The demon thrashes the boy around some, but comes out as commanded. Everybody can see that the demon has come out and the boy is well. The father can take him home!
Can you imagine the father’s heart now breaking not for sorrow, but for joy? Can you imagine the father’s heart not breaking for emptiness, but exploding because it is full of thanksgiving and hope and praise? Can you imagine the father leaping and skipping and running home, hand in hand with this healthy son, healthy for the first time in years? Maybe planning to surprise Mother at the door – maybe planning a big party for all the neighbors later – maybe planning already the outings they’ll go on, the sports they’ll play, the adventures they’ll have together, the fun and the love as father and son from now on.
But – what about the “unbelieving generation” comment of Jesus in verse 19? What’s that all about? I suppose it could be a sigh of disgust, maybe, that some people take so long to come to Jesus. Like they see Him like their last resort rather than their first recourse.
Of course, we pastors know what that’s like, don’t we? People come to us and say things like, “Pastor, the wife and I have decided to get a divorce. We’ve signed the papers, and we thought you should know.” We nod, and inwardly groan and wonder why they didn’t come to us earlier in the process?
But truth be told, I do the same thing with Jesus. He’s often farther down on my “To Call” list than He ought to be, and often when I do reach out to Him it’s only after I’ve reached out to several others.
And yet that’s not where I’m really headed with this post. Go back for a moment to the paragraph in italics above. Whether they call us “Father” or not, we pastors often have the kind of relationship with the people Jesus gives to us that causes our hearts to ache for them. Whether they are our blood children or adopted children or our spiritual children, haven’t there been times when their lives and their situations pierce your own heart like a sword? Times when you’ve felt like the Prodigal Father trembling with anticipation that today might be the day the lost son is finally found? Times when perhaps, as someone’s pastor, you’ve thought “if I could be in that hospital bed / Alzheimer’s unit / jail cell instead of you”?
This story touches me at that place in my heart, and I want nothing more than to bring all these children to Jesus for Him to cast out whatever is possessing them so that we can run and play and celebrate His love forever – and Jesus and me with them.
From The Formational Pastor
One of the things that the church can do to provide a healing, formational atmosphere for the people it serves is to model healthy relationships and behaviors. We know that the ways in which we celebrate and welcome newcomers into the family of God in our particular place can create positive memories for them. If we make habits out of these celebrations they may become a part of the culture of the congregation, and people will assume “this is a church that celebrates people.”
Many churches celebrate the addition of infant members into their midst through a rite like a Dedication, or the Sacrament of Baptism. The words and form of these rites not only welcome these children into the local congregation, but since the rites also have some root in history we are saying that the children are being welcomed into the church through the ages as well. But there is more that we might do, I think.
At our congregation, when it comes to distributing the Lord’s Supper we have a few people come up to the front of the church at a time, where they kneel at a rail. One of the elders goes along the rail and gives out the bread, and I follow to give out the wine. We encourage children to come along with their parents. Although we don’t give communion to small children, I do pause at each one, place my hand on their head, and bless them because of their Baptism and the death and resurrection of Jesus, praying that “He will fill them with all joy and hope in believing in Him” or something similar. Most of the children seem genuinely happy to receive this blessing – even the infants are enthralled.
But there is one more step I use to celebrate the presence of these children of God in our midst. If one of the persons at the communion rail is a pregnant woman, after I give her the Blood of Jesus I pause, place my hand gently on her head, and pray a prayer of blessing for the child that she is carrying. These unborn ones are part of God’s family in our place, too, and deserve the prayers and anticipation of the entire body just as they do from their immediate family. And when we begin to celebrate them before they are born, we know that they are already a beloved part of our family when we finally do see them.