Since I live in a lower income community, I often run across many pan-handlers as I go about my day. Although I have come to realize that many of their stories are fabricated, there is the occasional true desperation that comes from an utter helplessness that always stirs my heart. These days I am thinking a lot about weakness, especially my own. While I may not be in the financial state of a pan-handler, I am constantly aware of my spiritual and emotional poverty. Perhaps that’s what draws me to passages like the one in Mark 9.
Before I go into the story of the demon-possessed boy mentioned in Mark 9, I would like to share a story about a woman that a former pastor told us about. He said that he didn’t even know if she was a Christian, but she would sit in the corner of a public street and people would line up in a long line just to receive a hug from her. A hug! From a complete stranger! He said that when people got up to her, she wouldn’t say a word but would give these long hugs that usually had the people who came to her sobbing in her arms as she held them. When I heard the story about her, I wondered what kind of desperation and pain would drive someone to seek solace in the arms of a complete stranger. Probably, I thought, a similar kind of desperation a devoted but helpless father had regarding his beloved son who was being tormented beyond his ability to help.
Let’s listen to this story in Mark 9 beginning in verse 14. “When they came back to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. Immediately, when the entire crowd saw Him, they were amazed and began running up to greet Him. And He asked them, ‘What are you discussing with them?’ And one of the crowd answered Him, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son, possessed with a spirit which makes him mute; and whenever it seizes him, it slams him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth and stiffens out. I told your disciples to cast it out, and they could not do it.’ And He answered them and said, ‘O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to me!’ They brought the boy to Him. When he saw him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. And he asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us!’ And Jesus said to him, ‘If you can? All things are possible to him who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief.’” (Mark 9:14-24 NASB)
I am going to stop there and some of you may know the rest of the story. Jesus commands the spirit to come out and the spirit came out and the boy was healed. I stopped here because I want to focus on something very specific today. I had heard and read this story many times before, but I was recently reading it in the New King James Version and in the last verse, the NKJV adds, “with tears” so the verse reads, “Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.’” (Mark 9:24 NKJV) I love it when the Bible shows emotion because it helps me remember that these are real people in these stories. Real people who hurt like I do, who get excited like I do, who fail miserably like I do, and whom Jesus loves as much as he loves me. So as soon as I saw the word tears, I wanted to read the whole story again carefully to find out just what exactly was going on. And what I saw opened my eyes even more to the character of my Maker and Savior.
That revelation was found in verse 21 which reads, “And [Jesus] asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” If you notice, the father tells of much more serious and dangerous things the spirit has done to his son after Jesus asks this question. When he first sees Jesus, he tells him that the spirit slams him to the ground, makes him foam at the mouth and grinds his teeth. All weird things, but not life-threatening. Once Jesus asks him this question, he begins to tell him about how this spirit has tried to kill his son. I tend to think that if it were me, I’d get down to the serious stuff right away. It’s like calling 9-1-1 and when they ask, “What’s your emergency?” instead of saying “My son has been thrown into the fire,” you say, “My son is grinding his teeth and foaming at the mouth.” So what makes him disclose the serious stuff and even admitting his own weakness? I believe it is the same thing that draws the crowds of people to the old woman I mentioned in the beginning.
He saw Jesus cared.
Jesus cared enough to pry open the cistern of grief and sorrow and helplessness buried within this man. Jesus did not just do a miracle to show his power and move on. He stopped to engage this father in a conversation. The people he healed were not his “projects” or “trophies” to show his power and credibility. They were his beloved whom he created and died to save. His one question communicated to the father that unlike the scribes and the disciples who were arguing about this “phenomenon” before them, he loved the boy and his father so much that he wanted to bring them not only physical healing but he also wanted to strengthen them spiritually so that they would trust him completely to provide everything they needed.
I pray that you would hear the voice of your Maker speaking to you through his question to the boy’s father. I pray that you would see in his eyes his passion for you, not an agenda to save the world, but his desire to save you. He loves you so much, and he longs for you to open up your heart to him, and tell him of your fears and weaknesses, and let him give you the biggest, most healing hug you’ve ever experienced.