20 Feb, 2017. Monday, Week 7
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.
Gospel: Mark 9:14-29
The mute spirit which convulses the boy is driven out by Jesus’ 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; 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.”
The power of prayer
Three great and related moments in Mark’s Gospel, at 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).
Regarding the spirit in which to pray, we can learn from the reading 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 serenity and sureness of 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 wonder, prayer and the true 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 values the fear of the Lord as glory and splendour that warms the heart. To bring this kind of reverence into our prayer, we look to the opening poem from the Book of 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. He has lavished her on his friends.” This wonderful wisdom exists at the depth of our being and is also with God where it remains forever.
When we review our own prayer, we might cry out with the father of the mute and epileptic boy, “I do believe. Help my lack of trust.” The biblical appreciation of prayer may seem far beyond us. In fact, it is and we remember again Sirach’s healthy advice, “weary not, though you cannot reach the end.” What we strive to reach, we already possess at the depths of ourselves. 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.
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.