In the opening of today’s Gospel, we witness Jesus, Peter, James, and John returning from the experience of the transfiguration. As they draw closer they witness a commotion, for while they were away, a man had brought his son to the other disciples to expel a demon from him but they could not. As they draw closer, the father appeals to Jesus: “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.” Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief” (Mk 9:22-24).
Jesus’ response to the man is clear and consistent with his teaching, miracles, exorcisms, and healings. We see that the key ingredient over and over again throughout the Gospels is an appeal to Jesus’ help and the person’s faith. What may be unclear is the man’s response, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” This statement not only addresses his experience but those of his disciples who were not able to heal the boy.
The man did have faith in Jesus to a point, for he brought his son to him believing that he could possibly heal him. His words reveal the maturity of his faith, “But if you can do anything…” This request shows some doubt. This is much different than the woman with the hemorrhage who believed if she but just touched the tassel on his cloak she would be healed or the Canaanite woman who sought to have her daughter exorcised even though Jesus initially dismissed her for being a Gentile.
The father’s statement, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”, is beneficial to us all. The father believes in Jesus to a point, but recognizes he needs help to go further in his faith. Jesus confirms that what is important in maturing in our faith life is being people of prayer. When his disciples talked to him in private, they asked him why they were not able to heal the boy and Jesus replied, “This kind can only come out through prayer.”
Prayer is not a magic formula. Prayer is about becoming aware of God’s invitation to develop and sustain a relationship with him. When we make time for God in our day and recognize his presence in every aspect of our life, we come to know him and know his will in each situation. The exorcism of the young boy happened because the father of the boy appealed to Jesus that he needed his help to believe. The disciples could not heal because they sought to do so through their own will power alone instead of drawing on the infinite source of Jesus.
The good news is that even though time and again they fell short, and we see plenty of examples of this, they persisted in their faith, in their belief in Jesus. They grew in their trust in him such that the disciples did mature, and they recognized that apart from Jesus they could do nothing,
So much so, that we see Peter, who had denied Jesus, reconciled with him after his Resurrection, would some time after the Ascension of Jesus, come to encounter a man crippled from birth who was begging for alms. Peter said to the man: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give to you: in the Name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, [rise and] walk” (Acts 3:6).
Peter’s faith grew over time, through failure, sin, and unbelief, but he, like the father in today’s Gospel, gives us a model to follow each and every day. We can mature in our faith as well. Let us begin our day with this prayer and return to if often: Jesus “I do believe, help my unbelief.”