If He Can!
Text: Mark 9:14-29
Proper 19, B
“If you can do anything … ” I still remember those words to this day. Pleading to his feet there in the dust, there at the end of my rope. “If you can do anything ...” There are times when I wake up wishing they had never crossed my lips. That's not like me at all. Well, I wish it wasn't, but you and I both know better, don't we? Perhaps I should explain what led me to those awful words, the long years of demands, that moment of desperation. Maybe then you will understand.
I'm a pretty normal guy. I had a pretty normal life. Things were never great, but they were usually good. I knew God from a young age. I married a wonderful woman. I was blessed with strong hands, a good work ethic, and a son to carry on my name in my old age. Or so I hoped. But you see, soon after our boy arrived we knew that something wasn't right. He couldn't speak, he could hear just fine, but never once a single word. And he would get this look … and then … and then the fits would seize him. The first time I saw it in my infant son I was terrified. My wife was in a panic that lasted for days. We saw all the best doctors, we spoke to every priest. We paid good money for any and every type of cure or treatment people could think of. Nothing worked.
Everything would be normal for a while, just long enough for you to begin thinking that maybe things would be good now. And then he would get that look. That glassy-eyed vacant look. And then the convulsions. And the more we tried to treat them the more violent they became. We couldn't leave him alone for fear of what might happen to him around fires, water, hills, steps, other people. It became as much of a never-ending prison for my wife and me as it was for our dear son.
So you couldn't blame me for going to the mountain that day. For taking my son to the one they said had cured all manner of diseases. The one who cast out demons and caused the blind to see and the deaf to hear. Some said He was from God, I remember saying it didn't matter who he was, as long as he could do something … anything ... he was our last chance.
Only, when we got there Jesus wasn't there. A large crowd of people from all over was there, but He had gone off with some of His disciples. His men asked what I wanted. I begged for their help. I told them of my son's demon, of the terrible things it made him do, the physical danger he was in. They said not to worry, they had cast out worse demons already. They pulled my son aside and began demanding that his demon come out. They got in his face, they yelled, the fumed, they berated. He just stood there mute and glassy-eyed. I began to get worried – he didn't even flinch. The harder they pushed, the more vacant his stare became.
And then, to make matters worse, a group of scribes came up and began shouting at the disciples. False teachers, in league with demons, liars and cheats. I couldn't believe that they would use my misfortune for their own ends like that! Their accusations only added to the noise and confusion of everyone there. I was ready to begin wading through the lot of them with my fists flying if needed,to pull my son clear of that circus, when I heard someone in the crowd shout over the commotion “Jesus has come back.”
What's going on here? He asked over the din. I remember jumping forward before anyone could continue the argument. “I brought my son for you to help. He is beset by demons that make him mute and seek to kill him. I asked your disciples to cast it out but they couldn't.” I admit that it wasn't very tactful, but I was in a desperate place. Jesus seemed to share some of my frustration. “O you faithless bunch!” He roared. The noise died down in an instant and I remember thinking it served them right. “How long must I put up with you?” You could almost feel the people beginning to squirm. “Bring me the boy” he told the disciples.
And then it happened. The fit overcame him and threw him to the ground. The foaming and the grinding. The rolling back and forth. It was the worst attack I had seen yet. In a moment I was at his side trying to hold him still. Trying to let my son know that I was there. That I wouldn't let him go. And that's when I felt a hand on my shoulder. “How long has he been like this?” Jesus asked. And without daring to take my eyes off my son I told him the whole story. Right there in the dust with my son writhing and jerking in my trembling, exhausted, hands I laid bare my heart. And turning to His feet I cried out those terrible, awful, soul-baring words. “If you can do anything, have mercy and help us!”
“If you can!” came His reply. “Everything is possible for the one who believes.” And in that moment I knew what I had done. I understood what I had said. I saw the content of my secret heart. And I was ashamed. For I, in my grief and my pain, in my longing for help, I was every bit as faithless as all the arguing crowds around me. While they argued with each other over my son, I was arguing with God over my pain. Because the all doctors hadn't helped, the priest couldn't help, the disciples didn't help I had already decided that some things were beyond God's power, or outside of His care. I had cried out for a help that I didn't really believe was coming. Help I didn't believe could come.
In that moment I felt sure I had ruined everything. That I had blocked the very help that might finally be there. I knew I was unworthy of the one thing I so desperately longed for. Because kneeling there in the dirt, as I had countless times before I didn't have the faith left to believe that anything was possible.
But His had was still there on my shoulder. His compassion was plain to see. Help had come. Help for me, the faithless bunch. In an instant I cried out “I do believe” “God help me, I do believe! Take away my unbelief!” And He did. With a word of command He turned to my son and cast the demon out forbidding it from ever returning. The convulsion was mighty, and my son screamed. The demon that kept him from speaking all those years screamed in disbelief as it was ripped out of my precious son. And then it was silent. Everywhere was silent. My doubts and fears were finally silent. For my son lay there calm and at peace. Resting in a way I had never seen before. He was my son again. And Jesus … Jesus was my Lord and my God who had shown me that all things are possible in His hands.
What secret part of your heart have you cut off from God's compassion? What part of your life have you decided He will not, or cannot answer? Don't even try laying to me … I've been there … I know. Maybe it is physical problem you've been suffering from for years. The one no one can fix. Maybe it is that broken relationship that you just can't seem to repair. The question no one can answer, the pain no one can ease, the grief that just won't fade. You've prayed and you've struggled. You pleaded and you've fought. And deep down inside, if you were honest with yourself, you know that some small secret part of you feels defined by it. For whatever reason you have decided that some things (or just this one thing) are beyond God's power, or outside of His care. How do you cry out for a help that you don't really believe is coming. Help you don't believe could come.
“Lord, you believe. Help your unbelief!” And in answer, God is even now, right here, at your side, holding you still. In His precious Word and Sacraments He is letting you know that He is still here. Indeed, in these precious gifts He truly is here! In these gifts Christ is letting you know that no matter how bad things get, no matter how much you may suffer, no matter how many of your deepest desires never seem to be fulfilled the way you want them to be answered He won't let you go.
(Rom 8:32) He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? The one who walked to the cross on your behalf is walking through your suffering with you now. The one who was born into our family has baptized us into His own. The one who shed His blood for your forgiveness offers it to you now as a sign of His eternal commitment to you. The one who died for you will be there in your grief. The one who rose again will come and take you to be where He is now. And in Him all things will be answered for your good once and for all. Everything He has done, is doing, and will ever do has shown this one thing: There is no “If” to His compassion for you. Believe it!