Anything but prayer
He was desperate. Every so often it would strike. He’d say, “Go get some more wood for the fire,” or, “Come sit with me,” and then, without warning, his son would seize like something had grabbed hold of him by his very soul. He was desperate. His son couldn’t hear him in those moments and couldn’t speak. It was terrible and the despair it brought the man was powerful.
He’d heard rumor of a man, a marvelous teacher, who was doing things no other teacher had. He was infuriating the powerful who had been unable to help his son. He was approachable to the powerless, just like himself.
So off he went to find out more. Who could help his boy? If the rumors were only partly true, then he had to go and see.
He asked around. People could never seem to pin down where he might be. But everyone seemed to know someone who knew someone. Finally he was able to find the teacher’s students. They were a haggard bunch who looked nothing like the scribes. They didn’t dress nicely. They smelled. Their language was uneducated and so common. The man felt his hope falter, his belief waver. But surely, he thought, there was still a chance. They said they had seen him, this teacher of theirs, clothed in the glory of God only recently. That it was like God had come down to a mountain. The students attested to it. They were still in awe. But nothing they did seemed to fix his son. If anything, being in their presence seemed to aggravate the devil that was causing it.
They talked about the teacher and they did some kind of ritual but nothing they did helped. His name was salvation? What kind of mockery was this? The man continued to lose hope, his belief almost entirely extinguished by their lack of help.
“Take me to him,” he begged them. “Take me to this one who saves.” They relinquished their attempts to fix his son and took him. The teacher was simpler still than all of them. He didn’t have glory that the man could see. He was just another man. His belief wasn’t even a spark now. But his unbelief? That was beginning to kindle hot.
“Lord…Teacher… have mercy on my son…I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute… for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him. I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.”
The teacher, this one they called Lord, he looked through the man and everything felt wrong. All of his thoughts, all of his feelings, all of that glowing pyre of unbelief… it was all exposed.
Then the teacher spoke, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” But he didn’t speak to the man, or not just to him but to the crowd. The onlookers, the sneerers, the scribes with their quills, the Pharisees with their little tin boxes of prayers on their heads… even maybe to his own students. The ones who had worked so hard. How could he see through them all in that way? He didn’t say it was impossible. He didn’t say it couldn’t be done. No, he spoke about their hearts… but wanted his son.
So the man brought his son to the teacher. He brought him because sometimes bitterness is but a deep well where the last drip-drops of hope have settled.
And then it happened. Worse than before, at home, worse than when the students had tried. His son clenched and stiffened and choked at the sight of the teacher. But the teacher spoke, to the man, not to the boy, not to the crowd, not to his students, “How long has this been happening to him?”
It had been forever. For so long. He told the teacher so. It had been so, so very long he could barely remember a time when his son hadn’t been afflicted. “…if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
The teacher seemed sad but still those eyes looked through him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”
It cut, it cut so hard to hear someone speak your heart out loud. But it was so true. It was true and he didn’t believe. He didn’t see the teacher as salvation, just as another poor Galilean who couldn’t help his son. But no one had ever spoken so clearly, with such authority before. He wanted it so badly.
“I believe; help my unbelief!” he screamed at the teacher. The crowd began to stir and grow restless and now the teacher turned to his son.
In anger… in anger he spoke… but not to the man’s son, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” His voice was terrible, like the sound of a storm. His son went still, slack and limp as a cloth. The crowd said the teacher killed his son, but the man watched, he watched this one called Salvation as he lifted his son up, whole. Even his students were astonished.
And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”
(Mark 9:29 ESV)