Saturday, July 05, 2008

the demon-possessed boy

This morning I got up and was thinking about Mark 9:14 again.

Because of my post on translations and interpretations in which I mentioned the following:

DIFFERING INTERPRETATIONS CAN ALSO OCCUR DEPENDING ON HOW A TRANSLATOR CHOOSES TO USE PUNCTUATION,

Consider Mark 9:23:
In Mark 9:22, the father of the demon-possessed epileptic boy says, "If you can do anything, have compassion and help us."


King James Version: If you can believe all things are possible to him that believeth.

Young's Literal Translation (printed in 1898):"If thou art able to believe! all things are possible to the one who is believing."

The New International Version: "'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."

The International Children's Version: "Jesus said to the boy's father, "You said, 'If you can!" All things are possible for him who believes."

The Contemporary English Version: "Why do you say 'if you can'? Anything is possible for someone who has faith."

The New Revised Standard: "If you are able! --All things can be done by the one who believes."

See how subtle the difference in these translations are. If one goes only with the King James Version, you'll end up thinking Jesus is telling the father that the father has no faith and as one televangelist -- whom I highly respect (but who in this case is way wrong) says-- Jesus is putting the responsibility back on the father. Not true in the other versions. In the other versions, Jesus is reassuring the man that anything is possible and that of course he -- Jesus-- can do anything.

I'd say that pretty much all the versions blame the ministering disciples for not having faith, but many ministers use the KJV and because they don't want to put the blame on ministers (themselves) they all manage to make sermons about the man's lack of faith. But as is clearly seen in the non-KJV versions, Jesus isn't blaming the father at all. Jesus puts the onus of healing on the disciples and ministers of the church

I figured I'd just go checking out the story again and see what all I could find.

When the story begins, Jesus is descending the mount of transfiguration with his three favorite disciples. The disciples have seen Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus about his future death and resurrection. They have asked him, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?"

Jesus tells them that Elijah has come but the scribes did all sorts of stupid thing to him. Jesus says this although Elijah was just speaking to him, and although he has also said that John the Baptist had the spirit of Elijah. Am not gonna ask why the disciples didn't recognize John the Baptist in the same spirit of John the Baptist.

Anyway, Jesus and the three inner-circle disciples descend and what do they see? Those self-same scribes. And there's a hub-bub. A crowd has gathered around the other 9 disciples. There's a great big hub-bub and the scribes and the disciples are having a big heated discussion. Jesus asks, "What are you all arguing about?"

Then a man comes up with a demon-possessed disabled son and says, "I brought my son to your disciples and they could not cast him out."

At the end, the disciples ask Jesus "PRIVATELY" Why couldn't we cast him out? Privately, mind you. Because they don't want to deal with the scribes' theology and their human pride can't deal with being told something else in public. I mean, "Jesus has already told them: "You perverts, you faithless people! How long will I have to put up with people like you? How long will I have to tolerate you!" So the disciples don't seem to mind Jesus losing his patience with them in public but they really want to know why they couldn't cast this spirit out.

After all, it's not as if these disciples don't know how to cast demons out. They have been casting out demons for a while now. But there's something about this spirit -- maybe the way the demon acted up and made such a show of things-- that flustered them and made them lose their boldness, even though they have authority.

Jesus tells them, "This kind doesn't come out except through prayer." Some manuscripts say, "Because of your unbelief. This kind doesn't come out except through fasting and prayer."

Now, that's understandable. Although Jesus' name is above all names, and all demons and all things must bow to that name. There's something about fasting and prayer that helps us get the boldness to go up against what our eyes see. Our faith just kinda falters when we see how big and complicated the mountain is. So we need to fast and pray to tell the flesh that it's spirit that rules.

But back to my original question: "What were the scribes arguing with the disciples about?"

This is just human reasoning on my part but I suspect these scribes were saying something like, "If you are healers as you say you are, you should be able to do it. Therefore you are false prophets. And your leader is a false prophet. I suspect there was a great deal of theology and Bible-verses flying over the heads of the people. And the poor father of the sick child was losing all faith. Nothing more stressing to one's faith than listening to religious theologians -- and that's what the scribes were-- telling people that they should not seek healing because these healers who are supposed followers of Jesus are just deluded.

People with a particular theological mindset or "agenda" often can be cold. Trust me: This is something I know from experience. I remember a typical day, my son in a lot of pain and crying and I just falling apart at his pain. A Christian friend walks by. We get to talking then in the middle of the discussion I say something like...I'll just ask God for a miracle. What does the lady say, "Well, you know the days of miracles are past." Now, honestly, even if she believes that...why is she saying that? What does she mean to give me by saying that? Isn't that just a case of someone "having to say her opinion" and totally ignoring a parent's pain? Charismatics and those who believe in healing are just as bad. A Catholic priest once said -- this while younger son was screaming in obvious pain-- "Accept this as your cross." (Uh, my cross? I can accept my cross. But I can't accept the cross of someone else's pain. But it was the easy thing for him to say...to quickly bounce to a platitude.) Or a charismatic who will say, "Well, you just don't have the right kind of belief...that's why your son isn't healed. Or you haven't forgiven everyone." And of course atheists also have their agendas. My atheist mother-in-law once said to me, "And if there's a god, why should he care about your little problems?" See.... that's the way it is with we humans. We love our agendas and our theologies more than we love people and more than we are willing to understand people's pain.

But what also is stressing about the entire situation is that the scribes probably affected the disciples' faith. The demonic spirit not only shook them by not being able to leave. But now the scribes have come up and said basically, "if your leader was really the one who was to come...elijah would have returned by now. AND you would've been able to do a miracle."

No wonder the disciples asked Jesus privately, "Why couldn't we cast the spirit out?" They needed to know why in this particular instance the spirit wouldn't leave. And why this particular spirit would not leave.

But the other thing that was going on was the personal family drama. The father of the boy was all too aware of the boy's illness. I suspect that parents of terminally or incurably ill young children especially are affected by this story. They know all too well what the word "impossible" means. They would be willing even to see the boy cured in anyway possible. Anyway possible, any little thing. The father of the boy had a long catalog of griefs but what do the theology-minded scribes care about: their own theological statements. Not the pain of the man. Luckily Jesus came with all his heart and hope and cut to the core of the issue: understanding the pain of a parent. If you've lived as long as I have and encountered some of the "religious" people who are hell-bent on you accepting their theological notions instead of opening their heart to the present need...of the sick child....well, you know what I mean.

Upshot: if you are trying to heal someone, do not allow other folks to argue with you with their theology. It's between you and God and God's words. Not what the doubting theologians say. The thing is to remember that although one thinks one is arguing against them, one is really in some ways being affected by their lack of faith. God is able to do more than we are able to ask or think and at the same time as a man thinks in his heart so is he. So it's an odd precarious balance. If we come at God with a theology and a system of beliefs instead of a personal trusting love, we are thinking in our hearts that our prayers get answered if we follow the rules. We leave out the relationship or we make Jesus' heart secondary to the theology of healing that we were taught. On the other hand, God is only pleased with faith. So we really must try to believe. This story -- and other of the healing stories-- show that balance often. The woman with the issue of blood was healed totally by trusting in the theology of "touching the hem of his garment." Malachi had said the Son of Righteousness would come with healing in his wings (another word for fringe of the prayer garment) and she believed Malachi but did not know Jesus. The man at the pool of Bethesda, however, was someone who simply wanted to be healed. He wasn't looking to Jesus. He was looking to a superstition (or demonic deception) to heal him but he wasn't thinking of Jesus. In his case, Jesus took the initiative and healed him. Same thing with the widow's only (dead) son. God's initiative. No faith as far as we know was involved, only the mercy and compassion of God. So it's a balance. We must have faith but if we get too caught up with being theologically right, we forget how loving and compassionate Jesus is. And, conversely, if we are totally caught up with how compassionate Jesus is, we might not do our part of believing, commanding, and challenging the illness.
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