Lifted By Jesus
But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer” (Mark 9:27-29 ESV). Tearing people down is easy. We can do it with a simple word even spoken with the best intentions. Lifting people up - now that is nearly impossible – like raising the dead. Today at International Lutheran Church, we witness the “resurrection” story prefigured in the lives of this amazing family and Jesus’ own disciples, even as Jesus lifts us up in His Word.
The physics of tearing things down is easy. Gravity literally does all the work. This was witnessed by the world some 20 years ago as the Twin Towers in New York came down to the disbelief and horror of us all. I remember sitting in my neighbors living room on the campus of Concordia Middle School in Chiayi, Taiwan as we prayed for the families that were so dramatically impacted on that tragic day. We sat unaware of how quickly the world would change in this one event under the weight of so much heartache and pain. Yet, this same terror can be experienced even in our own homes and classrooms when a simple word or comment, even spoken in truth, can destroy a person’s own sense of self-worth. Our tongues are truly the unruliest tools that can easily be used to crush others under the weight of our sinfulness and pride. I think this may be one reason that St. James says not all should be teachers (James 3:1) and that to tame the tongue is nearly impossible.
This terror is overcome however in our gospel reading today. We have been reading through Mark’s Gospel and have jumped ahead a bit. We last saw Jesus healing the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30) and the man who was both deaf and mute (Mark 7:31-37). Since then, Jesus has heard both Peter’s miraculous confession (“You are the Christ!”) and then his prompt failure to recognize what that would mean when he refused to accept that Jesus should suffer and die. “Get behind me Satan!” was Jesus’ stern response. From that mountain top to valley experience, Jesus takes Peter, James and John to literally the top of a mountain where they are eye and ear witnesses to the transfiguration of our Lord and the voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son. Listen to Him!” From here, Jesus, Peter, James and John returned to the other disciples to find them embroiled in an argument with the Scribes. We don’t know exactly what the substance of the argument was, but since earlier engagements with the Scribes revolved around the authority of Jesus to cast out demons, we can well imagine. As the father explains the disciples’ “inability” or “failure” to cast out the unclean spirit afflicting his son, Jesus is at the center of it all.
Precisely in the midst of this chaos and dispute, the father’s struggle to believe and the disciples’ “inability,” Jesus compassionately heals the boy from the torment that he has endured from his childhood. With a word He binds that deaf and mute spirit and cast it out. What then is likened unto death itself, Jesus lifts the boy by the hand and with it our very hearts and lives. With the words, “this kind only comes out by prayer,” Jesus teaches the disciples and us that He is the very answer to all our prayers. He is the One who ends our endless debates and brings us out of torment into a place of peace with self and one another. He is the Answer to all our problems, even before we can verbalize them. He is the One whose presence in our lives and on a cross is compassion in the rawest form. He is the One who with a word can bind the spirits of this age that seek to destroy all that is precious to God – you and me. With His word of resurrection, Jesus lifts the boy, the father and you and me and gives us the very faith we lack. While St. James is right to say that our tongues are an untamed power, they can also be used by God to tell one and all of just how Jesus lifts us in the power of His resurrection. God grant us such a faith!