20 May, 2013. Monday of the Seventh Week
Sir 1:1ff. All wisdom comes from God and draws us to God in reverence, lengthening our days.
Mk 9:14ff. The dumb spirit which convulses the boy is driven out by Jesus’ faith and prayer.
First Reading: Sirach 1:1-10
All wisdom is from the Lord, and with him it remains forever.
The sand of the sea, the drops of rain, and the days of eternity – who can count them?
The height of heaven, the breadth of the earth, the abyss, and wisdom – who can search them out?
Wisdom was created before all other things, and prudent understanding from eternity.
The root of wisdom – to whom has it been revealed?
Her subtleties – who knows them?
There is but one who is wise, greatly to be feared, seated upon his throne – the Lord.
It is he who created her; he saw her and took her measure; he poured her out upon all his works, upon all the living according to his gift; he lavished her upon those who love him.
Gospel: Mark 9:14-29
When they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and some scribes arguing with them. When the whole crowd saw him, they were immediately overcome with awe, and they ran forward to greet him. He asked them, “What are you arguing about with them?” Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.” He answered them, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” And they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; butif you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you are able! – All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!” After 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.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “This kind can come out only through prayer.”
Three high points in Mark’s gospel – Jesus’ baptism, transfiguration and prayer in the garden – are linked to prayerful struggle. Jesus’ baptism is followed by him wrestling with temptation in the desert (1:12-13); the transfiguration is followed by the disciples’ futile efforts to drive out a demon from the dumb boy; the prayer in the garden goes on while Jesus struggles to accept the will of his heavenly Father (14:34). Even though Mark’s gospel is not as permeated by prayer as Luke’s, each of these episodes is deeply linked to prayer. Today’s episode of the boy under demonic possession ends with the statement, “This can be driven out only by prayer.”
While we value it as a practice, it seems that many of us find meditative prayer something of a struggle. Regarding the spirit in which to pray, we can learn much from Sirach, starting today. It was written by an old man who conducted a college (Beit Midrash) for noble youths (Sir 51:23). With a serene sureness of touch he ranges over many aspects of human life, from home to the world of business, from legal studies to the way of entertaining guests. Yet he always ended in a spirit of wonder, prayer and reverence (fear of the Lord). His outlook is encouraging: “Do not grow weary, though you cannot reach the end… It is the Lord who has made all things, and to those who fear him he gives wisdom (44:35).
Today he assures us that the fear of the Lord is “glory and splendour” and “warms the heart.” To bring this kind of reverence into our prayer, we look to Sirach’s opening poem: God has poured forth wisdom on all his works and on every living thing. He has lavished her on his friends. At the depths of our selves is perception, intuition, a divine spark of wonder, a godly power to hold things together in harmony. This is the wisdom that “warms the heart.”
Trusting in that gift, we can call out with the father of the dumb and epileptic boy, “I do believe. Help my lack of faith.” With it we can live with some serenity amid the confusion and complex possibilities of our 21st century, with its international conflicts, its problems about sexual, financial and business ethics, and our growing awareness of looming climate change. Sirach’s healthy advice, “weary not, though you cannot reach the end” can help us remain both active and prayerful. The goal we strive to reach, we already possess at the depths of ourselves, bonded to Jesus, our way, our truth and our life.