38. Mark 9:14-32
Four scenes comprise this section: 9:14-19/9:20-24/9:25-27/9:28-29
Jesus and James, John, and Peter come down the mountain to demon-possession and debate with the scribes. Their arrival moves “the whole crowd” to “awe” (v.15). Why? Mark doesn’t say specifically. But this “awe” creates an expectation that Jesus’ presence will transform the situation for the kingdom of God.
Jesus wades into the fray. A father has brought his possessed son, driven by a spirit that renders him mute, physically harms him, paralyzes him, and causes him to foam at the mouth and grind his teeth (v.18). The description leads us to believe that this is the most difficult exorcism he has faced thus far. Maybe that’s why the disciples, who previously had effectively exorcised demons (6:13), failed here. And their failure is symptomatic of the nation’s failure (v.19). The great crisis of Israel’s existence and Jesus’ life loom right ahead and he feels the pressure of this acutely.
He has the boy brought to him and sets up the second scene.
The demon puts the boy through his demonic paces in front of Jesus (v.20). Jesus learns the boy has been afflicted since childhood (v.21). The situation is dire and the boy’s life is in danger. “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us” (v.22) – is the cry of the heart of this father. “If you are able” – Jesus’ response dismisses the father’s uncertainty over his ability. He zeroes in on the real issue: the father’s faith “all things can be done for the one who believes.” This means according to Hurtado: “The everything that is possible in 9:23 does not convey that believing will magically produce anything one might desire but rather means that Jesus’ power is available by faith to meet any need that arises in the course of ministering in his name” (Hurtado, Mark, 225).
“Immediately”(Mark’s favorite word again), the father declares his uncertain faith. That’s what is at issue here. This declaration, so characteristic of most of us in the many times of crisis in our lives, proves sufficient even its uncertainty. That’s the good news here. On to the third scene.
Jesus rebukes the unclean spirit and banishes him from his by forever (v.25). After the exorcism, however, the boy seems dead. That’s usually the way it works with Jesus. What we have become and even want to be has to die. Really die. Real losses and pain. Paul says we are baptized with Jesus into his death and burial (Rom.6:3-4). That’s what happens to the boy here.
But death and loss of what we have been and want to be is but the prelude to resurrection. Paul continues in Rom.6 that our death and burial with Christ is “so that” (6:4) we may be raised to new life with him. So when he takes the boy by the hand and lifts him up, the boy is able to stand – resurrection!
Once again, in private, the disciples ask Jesus what had gone wrong with their efforts to exorcize the demon. His answer: “This kind can come out only through prayer” (v.29). This is a little odd, since Jesus himself offers no prayer during his exorcism. What do we make of this? Garland’s comment is apt:
“Since Jesus did not offer up a prayer to exorcise the unclean spirit, the prayer that he has in mind is not some magical invocation but a close and enduring relationship with God. Mark hints that Jesus regularly engaged in intense prayer. He went out alone to pray (1:35; 6:45–46), but the disciples interrupted him because they were preoccupied with their own agenda. The one time he specifically asks them to pray with him they sleep instead (14:37– 40). The readers therefore can learn from the disciples’ negative example what happens to those who neglect prayer and try to operate on their own steam. Jesus’ positive example reveals that only a life governed by faith and prayer can repel the threat from the evil spirits.” (Garland, Mark:7021)
A little later as they travel through Galilee Jesus announces to the disciples a second time the fate that awaits him: betrayal, death, and resurrection. And a second time they do not understand. Whether they don’t want their ignorance exposed or just can’t face this horrifying truth (especially since they especially don’t get the bit about resurrection), they are afraid to talk to Jesus about it anymore.
From this point on in Mark fear dominates the disciples (14:50–52, 66–72; 16:8; Garland, Mark:7217).