25Feb 25 February. Monday of Week 7

Sirach links the fear of the Lord  with wisdom that warms the heart. It is something that God “lavishes on those who love him.”

1st Reading: Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10

All wisdom comes from God and returns to him

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.

Responsorial: Psalm 92:1-2, 5

Response: The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty

The Lord is king, with majesty enrobed;
the Lord has robed himself with might,
he has girded himself with power. (R./)

The world you made firm, not to be moved;
your throne has stood firm from of old.
From all eternity, O Lord, you are. (R./)

Truly your decrees are to be trusted.
Holiness is fitting to your house, O Lord,
until the end of time. (R./)

Gospel: Mark 9:14-29

The mute spirit which convulses the boy is driven out by Jesus’ prayer

When they [Jesus, Peter, James and John] came to the (other) 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.”


Learning prayer

Three great and related 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).

We can learn about prayer from  from Sirach. In the last chapter of book, we learn that this elderly gentleman conducted a “house of instruction”, in Hebrew, beit midrash, for the sons of the nobility (Sir 51:23). With a sure touch Sirach spoke about every aspect of human existence, ranging from the home into the business world, from study of the law to the entertainment of guests. Yet he always ended in a spirit of prayer and fear of the Lord. “Extol God with renewed strength, and 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 (Sir 44:32,35).

Sirach links the fear of the Lord  with wisdom that warms the heart. It is something that God “lavishes on those who love him.” To bring this spirit into our prayer, think of the opening poem in Sirach: God’s wisdom is spread across “heaven’s height and earth’s breadth,” so great that no one can explore them. God “has poured her forth on all his works and on every living thing.” This wonderful wisdom is open to us to explore.

When we review our prayer, we might cry out with the father of the mute and epileptic boy, “I do believe. Help my lack of trust.” It’s good to recall Sirach’s healthy advice, “weary not, though you cannot reach the end.” What we strive for, we already possess in principle. Through Jesus we discover who we are, provided we persevere in prayer and  balance our prayer with reverence, humility and good sense.

Prayer can channel God’s power

The disciples were trying to heal a seriously disturbed boy; and whereas they failed, Jesus succeeded. In response to their question as to why they could not heal the boy, he answered that “This is the kind that can only be driven out by prayer.” The implication is that the disciples were trying to heal this boy with their own power, but it was only God’s power that could heal him. If they were to be channels of God’s power they needed to pray more. They needed to be in deeper communion with God if God was to work through them in a life-giving way.

In his reply to their question, Jesus points to the power of prayer and the need for prayer if certain kinds of difficulties are to be resolved. Some situations in life are so much bigger than us, that it is only prayer that will get us through them. Perhaps we know that from our own experience. When we are really up against it, we can discover that it is prayer that keeps us going, when all else fails. It is the Lord who keeps us going, and our connection with him through prayer, when every other resource appears inadequate.

2 Responses

  1. Jim Hepp

    I liked your homily. I was trying to understand what Jesus meant when he said “This kind can only be driven out by prayer”. I was thinking Jesus was referring to the boy’s father since the father’s comment was “l do believe, help my unbelief” that he needed more faith and trust. Your point that the diciples were trying to heal this with their own power was helpful.

    Thank you.


  2. Pat Rogers

    Here’s an interesting commentary on that episode, entitled:

    “Silent no more”

    The healing of the epileptic boy raises questions as to how we are to read the healing miracles of Jesus. Matthew’s version of the boy’s condition includes a term that has superstitious overtones: σεληνιάζεται (from σεληνη, the moon.) The English equivalent is ‘moonstruck’ or “lunatic”. It suggests that someone is acting crazily under the influence of the moon! In Greece it’s often used in everyday language to describe someone acting strange. And it was not uncommon to be called σεληνιασμένος or be dismissed as “βρέ σεληνιασμένε!”

    Matthew’s use of σεληνιάζεται suggests superstitious notions about the moon’s influence on madness. Mark’s version of this healing avoids the word σεληνιάζεται, but attributes the boy’s condition to a demon. The symptoms that Mark describes would today be regarded as epileptic seizures. So we have this medical condition being treated as demon possession and labeled by a word from popular superstition. Then, how literally are we to take Jesus’ when he says that if we have faith we could move a mountain? Even he never told a mountain to move! You want to give it a try?

    Jesus was exaggerating, as he often did, to get them thinking. We cannot know whether Jesus himself saw this boy’s condition as demononic possession or connected to the moon’s phases. I like to think that all the talk of moon and demon were invented by the Gospel writers.
    It raises the question I started with: How should we read the miracle stories of the Gospels? Are they just miracle stories to be taken at face value, or are there further meanings and messages that can inspire us in our own situations? Surely there are such meanings and messages in all the miracle stories, including the healing of the epileptic boy.

    Mark reports this healing in greater detail than Matthew or Luke. Two moments in Mark’s version are notable: (1) When Jesus asked how long his boy had been like this, the father said, “From childhood.” (2) When Jesus challenged the father’s faith, the father cried out those famous words that still challeng us 2,000 years later: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

    The key to the miracle is faith. For Matthew it is the weak faith of the disciples who could not cure the boy. Mark focuses on the faith of the boy’s father! This is vital, because the faith of the father is also our faith – or lack of faith.

    The true demons, the powers that Jesus confronts are those that make us despair that real change,real spiritual growth is impossible. It’s no accident that this comes immediately after the transfiguration of Christ. Raphael’s painting of the Transfiguration includes the episode of the epileptic boy underneath. While Jesus is transfigured on the mountain, failed attempts are made to heal the boy down below. (click to enlarge)

    Back in the 1960s and 70s it was common to hear about the “silent majority.” Or, perhaps it’s more correct to say, the silenCED majority. We are the silenced majority when we don’t have enough faith in the power of the transfiguration, which is the power to fill our lives and our planet with the holiness and light of Christ. We are the silenced majority when we believe that the forces for evil are just too strong for anyone to conquer. That was the father’s problem. And Jesus gave him voice for the first time: “I believe, help my unbelief!” That was the turning point. And it’s the turning point for every one of us too.

    Be silent no more. We believe; Lord, help our unbelief!

    Pat Rogers

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