April 14, 2013

Only by Prayer and Fasting

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Mark 9:17-31

By St. Theophylact, Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria

14-18. And when He came to His disciples, He saw a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them. And straightway all the people, when they beheld Him, were greatly amazed, and running to Him, saluted Him. And He asked the scribes, "What question ye with them?" And one of the multitude answered and said, "Master, I have brought unto Thee my son, who hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever it taketh hold of him, it teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and wasteth away: and I spake to Thy disciples that they should cast it out; and they could not."

When He came to His disciples, that is, to the nine that had not gone up onto the mountain with Him, He saw that they were being questioned by the Pharisees. For the Pharisees had seized the opportunity of Jesus' absence to attempt to turn the disciples away from the Lord. The multitude, however, suddenly caught sight of Him, and greeted Him. They had been longing to see Him, and now they caught sight of Him and greeted Him as if He had just returned from a long journey. Some say that even His appearance had become more beautiful from the light of the Transfiguration which drew the multitude towards Him to greet Him. A man in the crowd spoke in answer to the Lords question. This man was weak in faith, as even the Lord attests when He says, "O faithless generation," and again, "all things are possible to him that believeth." The man himself attests to his unbelief when he says, "Help Thou mine unbelief." His complaints against the disciples clearly shows his unbelief. For he ought not to have accused them in front of everyone, but privately.

19-27. He answereth him, and saith, "O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him unto Me." And they brought him unto Him: and when He saw him, straightway the spirit tore him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. And He asked his father, "How long is it ago since this came unto him?" And he said, "Since a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if Thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us." Jesus said unto him, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth." And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief." When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying unto him, "Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and enter no more into him." And the spirit cried, and tore him much, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, "He is dead." But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose.

The man who approached the Lord accused the disciples of not having the power to heal. But the Lord turns the blame onto him, all but saying, "It is your unbelief which is the cause of your son not being healed." The Lord does not address only this man, but He directs this saying to all, reproaching all the Jews for their unbelief. For it is likely that many of the bystanders were also scandalized by the disciples inability to heal. The Lord shows that He welcomes death, when He says, "How long shall I be with you?" meaning, it is a torment to Me to live with you and your unbelief. But though He reproaches them, He grants the healing as well. He does not desire to heal the son as a show of His power, but rather He proceeds with great humility. See how He does not attribute the healing to His own power, but to the mans faith, when He says, "All things are possible to him that believeth." As soon as He saw a crowd beginning to gather around, He rebuked the spirit, not wanting to heal in front of the multitude as though for show. When He rebuked the spirit and said, "Come out of him, and enter no more into him," this suggests that because of the mans unbelief, the demon would have again entered into him if it had not been prevented by the Lords command. The Lord permits the spirit to rend the son, so that all might recognize the attack of the demon, and understand that it would have killed the man if it had not been held in check by the hand of God. A man is thrown by a demon "into the fire" of anger and desire, and "into water", meaning, into the pounding surf of worldly cares. This demon is both "mute and deaf". It is deaf, not wanting to hear the words of God; and it is mute, not able to teach others what ought to be taught. But if Jesus, Who is the Word of the Gospel, should take him by the hand, that is, strengthen his power to act, then that man will be freed from the demon. See how God first helps us, and then we ourselves are required to work. For the Evangelist says that Jesus "lifted him up"—this is the divine help, and "he arose"—this is the effort of the man himself to do good.

28-29.And when He was come into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, "Why could not we cast it out?" And He said unto them, "This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting."

The disciples were afraid they had lost the grace which the Lord had given them, and this was why they had not been able to cast out the demon. See that out of respect they approached the Lord privately. "This kind"—what kind? The kind which may make their abode in lunatics, or, in general, the whole race of demons, does not come out except through prayer and fasting. Both the one suffering, and the one about to heal, must fast. Both are necessary. Good sense dictates that the one suffering must fast. He must not only fast, but also pray; and he must not only pray, but also fast, for true prayer is rendered when it is yoked to fasting. When the one who prays is not weighed down by the effects of food, his prayer is not burdened and ascends easily.

30-31. And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and He would not that any man should know it. For He taught His disciples, and said unto them, "The Son of Man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill Him; and after He is killed, He shall rise the third day."

Whenever the Lord spoke of His passion on the cross, He would precede and follow His words with miracles, so that no one could think that He would suffer because He was powerless. And when He spoke sad words, such as, "they shall kill Him," He would add words of joy, "He shall rise the third day," teaching us that gladness always follows after grief, and that we should not anguish needlessly in our sorrows, but should hope for better things.