24th February. Monday, Week Seven
1st Reading: James 3:13-18
(A wise spirit is not characterized by envy but by innocence, leniency, sympathy and peace.)
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
Gospel: Mark 9:14-29
(The mute spirit which convulses the boy is driven out by Jesus’ faith and prayer.)
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; but if 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.”
Prayer is not always such a struggle
Three great moments in Mark’s gospel: Jesus’ baptism, transfiguration and prayer in the garden, are each followed by struggle: Jesus’ baptism by the Lord’s wrestling with Satan in the desert (Mark 1:12-13); the transfiguration by the disciples’ futile wrestling to drive out a demon from the mute boy; the prayer in the garden where Jesus struggles with the will of the heavenly Father amidst “sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). Even though Mark is not characterized like Luke as a gospel of prayer, nonetheless each of these episodes is surrounded or at least concluded by prayer: Jesus spends the forty days in the desert in prayerful seclusion (1:13), caught between heaven and earth, between overwhelming goodness and demonic evil, in the grip of deep contemplative prayer. Today’s episode of the boy under demonic possession ends with the statement, “This can be driven out only by prayer.” In the garden Jesus admonishes his disciples, “Be on guard and pray that you may not be put to the test” (14:38).
Today’s section from St. James deals with another, quieter aspect of prayer. He assures us that the wisdom from above is “innocent, peaceable, lenient, docile, rich in sympathy and the kindly deeds that are its fruits.” When we review these qualities of prayer, we too cry out with the father of the mute and epileptic boy, “I do believe. Help my unbelief.” This sublime level of prayer may seem far beyond us. In fact, what we strive to reach we already possess in some fashion. Through Jesus we discover who we are, provided we persevere long in prayer and provided we balance our prayer with true and healthy fear, with humility and good sense. The biggest challenge in regard to prayer, for most people, is to value it highly enough that we persevere in it, despite the multiple distractions that surround us.