It is one of the best known of Jesus miracles, yet the details of the event make it one of the strangest at the same time. For example, at first Jesus is nowhere to be found. He is actually with Peter, James and John further up the mountain where they had have seen him transfigured (Mark 9:2-13). The other disciples had been left behind (Mark 9:14). A large crowd had gathered, including Pharisees and teachers of the law, and they were vehemently arguing with Jesus disciples (Mark 9:14). There was a father there with his sick boy, who seemed to have some form of epilepsy that is linked to demon possession or oppression whereby his epilepsy was triggered by demonic activity in some way (Mark 9:18). The disciples, who Jesus as some point had sent out to heal the sick and preach the good news, and who had done so or would do so successfully, could not deliver the child (Mark 9:18b). We don’t know what the arguing was all about, but it seems that just the appearance of Jesus was enough to cause the crowd to go bonkers in wonder (Mark 9:15). Certainly the demon responsible for triggering the epileptic episodes recognized Jesus, triggered an attack, presumably in defiance and demonstration of his power (Mark 9:20). The father’s plea to Jesus for help was more of a cry of desperation than of hope or faith (Mark 9:22b). His answer to Jesus, seemingly indignant response, ” ‘If you can…’ ” was that he believed, but he couldn’t say that he didn’t have some lingering doubts (Mark 9:24)! It was an honest confession, given the arguing and powerlessness of the disciples up to this point. The whole scene seems to be something between chaos and a spiritual nightmare for this man who is simply looking for help for his son!

Let’s take a closer look at the scene. When Jesus and the three with him first saw the crowds around the other disciples and noticed the scribes or teachers of the law, they were arguing with the disciples (Mark 9:14). The way Mark describes this, they seem to have been arguing for some time, and were in the process of arguing as Jesus appeared. This was a sustained confrontation that was sufficiently acrimonious for Jesus to sharply demand, “What are you arguing with them about?” (Mark 9:16). The amazement of the crowd and their spontaneous joy at seeing Jesus, running over to greet him, seems to come as a sort of expression of relief that he had arrived. The failure of the disciples to bring deliverance to the child and the arguing of the teachers of the law seems to have created a great deal of tension, that may even have been reaching a climax as Jesus arrived.

One of the people in crowd answered Jesus question by saying that he had brought his son to him (Mark 9:17). In explaining his son’s condition, the man explained that he had told his disciples to cast it out but they were unable to do so, where the literal wording means they were not strong enough or without the power or strength to do so (Mark 9:18). Then comes a sigh of frustration from Jesus, “How long must I go on enduring the unbelief (lack of faith) of this generation; how much longer must I be (put up) with you all?” (Mark 9:19). Jesus words should probably be seen against the back drop of the transfiguration, where he had been reminded of his glory, only to come back to earth, literally, to a circus of conflict and unbelief!

Asking them to bring the boy to him, implying that the boy was still somewhere not quite close enough to be addressed directly by Jesus, they brought him over (Mark 9:20). At the moment the spirit or demon, saw Jesus it convulsed the child, and put on a show of its power over him (Mark 9:20b). Now the conversation between Jesus became the focus, whereas up until now the powerlessness of the disciples had been the main attraction. Jesus asked the man how long his child had been experiencing these episodes, to which the man replied since he was very young (Mark 9:21). The man elaborated on the condition, and told Jesus that it had posed great danger to him, even to the point of nearly resulting in hsi death at times (Mark 9:22).

At this point we are treated to an inside look at how serious and consequently how desperate this man is. He has a child that has been often in danger of his life, and is frequently beset by convulsive fits that neither the parents nor the child can control. it is hard to imagine anything more distressing. We don’t know how long the child had been like that, but we can imagine the despair of the parents. And this father who had obviously come to Jesus, expecting help for healing, found when he arrived at where Jesus was reported to be, that he was missing! He entreated the disciples for their help, but they were powerless, the boy was undelivered. Crowds had gathered to witness the pitiful spectacle of his son convulsing and to add to his anguish. A group of religious leaders turned the occasion into an opportunity to conduct a theological debate. All the father wanted was for his child to be healed and delivered. At Jesus last question, he saw his opportunity and seized it with both hands and asked Jesus, that if he could, if he had the power, would he heal the boy (Mark 9:22)! That is quite literally what he asked! He had seen the powerlessness of the disciples, heard the theological arguments, presumably about why the boy was not healed, and so his plea was almost a desperate grasp for some hope, but without the full conviction at this point that anything could be done. And Jesus recognized the conflicted father’s painful reach. His response was not a rebuke as much as it was a rallying calling to the man for faith (Mark 9:23)!

Interestingly enough, the word used by the man and Jesus to describe his ability to heal the boy, is a antonym for the phrase used to describe the inability of the disciples. They were powerless, and Jesus questioned the man’s hesitancy in believing that he was able to do what they could not. That they were unable had shaken the man’s faith. He had come in anticipation of healing from Jesus but as things wore on it was looking more and more remote! But with all of that said, he seized the moment to ask Jesus anyway. And when Jesus drew attention to his hesitancy, the man confessed that he was struggling with his doubts and misgivings, but that he did have an underlying faith in what Jesus was capable of doing. In spite of his doubts the man was prepared to seize the moment and throw himself on Jesus for whatever he could do for his boy.

The crowds came running to Jesus, threatening to recreate the earlier circus, so Jesus acted. He was not interested in notoriety or the acclaim that went with the miracles. He was not interested in a debate over the theology of healing with the scribes, either. Jesus responded to the weak but real faith of the man who had brought his boy in the first place. Rebuking the demon, the boy was convulsed once again before the demon finally left (Mark 9:25-26). This final episode was so violent that it left the boy unconscious and for all the world looking as though he was dead. But Jesus reached down, and taking him by the hand, he raised him to his feet (Mark 9:27).

The father’s grasp of the opportunity for healing and the benefit of his son is inspiring. He came to Jesus and had not found him. He asked the disciples but they could not heal him. The scribes turned it into a circus with their debating and the crowds watched in engrossed wonder at the entertaining to and fro. By the time Jesus showed up the man no longer had the confidence that brought him to Jesus in the first place. On top of that the boy convulsed just at the sight of Jesus! The level of discouragement and disappointment must have been high. But in spite of that he siezed the moment and laid the challenge down. He did it in an awkward and unconvincing way, but he seized the moment for what it was worth, in hopes that his boy would be healed.

This was a good dad. He didn’t have all the answers, but he brought his child to Jesus for deliverance and healing. Even discouraged and almost beaten out of his faith he made one last stab at getting Jesus to heal him. The result was that the boy did in fact get the help he needed. We can do no better than have that kind of faith. Raising our children is not an even but a process, and that is going to be marked by times of critically low faith. But we must seize those moments of opportunity to bring our kinds to Christ, or to pray with them or to share the word. We cannot afford to let the moment pass, because everything has conspired to make it a circus or to rob us of the confidence we once had that something was going to happen. The moment is the moment, and when the opportunity comes to do something that will lead our children to Christ or teach them something about him, we must take it there and then without a moment’s hesitation. We may not have all the answers and our faith may not be fully up to par, but the moment is the moment, and Jesus is ready and willing!

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