24Immediately the father of the child cried out,* ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ 25When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You spirit that keep this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!’ 26After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ 27But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. 28When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ 29He said to them, ‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’*
Returning to the healing of the boy – the father of the child asked Jesus for help; he says that he believes, but still he knows there is some element of unbelief in his heart. We all need Christ to help our unbelief! Mark tells us that Jesus sees the crowd running that way – they have spotted Jesus and want to see what happens next. They are looking for the spectacle, the strange, the thing they can tell their children and grandchildren – like a crowd at a circus, or bystanders at a tragedy. If they would only open their eyes and their hearts, and see that it is Jesus who will change the world.
Jesus proceeds with the healing of the child – whether rushing to accomplish it before the crowd comes pushing in to see, we cannot quite be sure from Mark’s text, but I think that is something of what is happening here. Jesus is trying to save the boy from being a spectacle for the crowd, as well as from the demon that is making him ill. Jesus turned to the boy and “rebuked” the evil spirit. An interesting word – “rebuked” – it means to strongly order; we take it as meaning scold, but the meaning of the Greek used here is one of sternness. Jesus had rebuked the wind when he calmed the storm; Peter rebuked Jesus when he said he would die; Jesus had then turned and rebuked Peter, saying “Get behind me, Satan!” And Jesus often rebuked the evil spirits. Whatever evil spirits there are in this world, even the things we consider natural today, Jesus has authority over them all. So – why is there still evil in the world? Why doesn’t Jesus just rebuke all the evil and make things perfect? He will – when the time comes. But in the meanwhile, some of that is our job. We have to use our minds and our wills to do his work here on earth – to find the cures for epilepsy, and cancer, and ebola, and to wipe out malaria. God has given human beings free will – and we can use that will for great good, or for great evil.
Meanwhile, Jesus heals the boy, although the evil spirit, in leaving him, throws him into a violent convulsion and at its conclusion people think he is dead. Jesus takes him by the hand and lifts him up; and he is well.
But the disciples ask Jesus, when they are in private, why they could not heal the boy. After all, they had been given the authority, before their mission, to heal the sick and lame, and to exorcise demons. Why couldn’t they do it this time? Jesus response is interesting, “This kind can come out only through prayer.” What are the dynamics here? The disciples had been attempting to cure the boy on their own power. Had they not asked God for help? The scribes were arguing with them – were they denying the power of Jesus, having seen the disciples fail? The father’s faith had been shaken – he had brought his son to see Jesus, to be healed by one he had heard could do it. But his attempt to see Jesus had (at first) been thwarted by these disciples, who then proved to be unable to help. Small wonder, when he did meet Jesus, his request included a great big “If”. But still, the man made his request of Jesus – although his faith was shaken, his hope was there. He begged the Master to heal his son. I have heard it said that his was the only prayer in the story – his imperfect prayer with only a modicum of hope. Jesus heard the hope, and Jesus healed his son. Jesus hears our prayers, even though they are imperfect.